Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger said he hopes the fans will be found and punished soon. (Reuters: Eddie Keogh)
“Blatant racism” is “rife” in the UK and action is needed to combat it, according to the body which represents the country’s professional footballers.
- Authorities are searching for fans who allegedly directed a monkey gesture at Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger
- A man was arrested for allegedly racially abusing Tottenham’s Son Heung-min in the same match
- It is not the first time Rudiger has been racially abused, having left an Italian club over lack of action against racism in the country
The statement from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) came after a number of racist incidents at games, most recently during the weekend’s clash between London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham.
Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger indicated he had been the victim of a monkey gesture from the home section of the crowd after being involved in an on-field clash with Tottenham’s Son Heung-min, for which the Spurs attacker was red carded.
Referee Anthony Taylor stopped the match and, following the official protocol, the crowd was told via an announcement over the PA system racist behaviour was “interfering with the game”.
Tottenham has promised the “strongest possible action” against anyone found guilty of abusing Rudiger but attempts to find those at fault have been “inconclusive”.
London’s Metropolitan Police announced it had also arrested a Chelsea fan who was ejected for racially abusing Son during the same match, although it was not clear when the abuse happened.
The racist abuse was the latest in a string of similar incidents in English football. Monkey gestures were also directed at Manchester United’s Fred during a derby win over Manchester City in November and Haringey Borough players walked off the pitch after racial abuse was aimed at them by Yeovil Town fans in an FA Cup clash.
The players’ union said football players were “on the receiving end of the blatant racism that is currently rife in the UK” and called for “all governing bodies to unite collectively to end this abuse”.
“Racist abuse in football is not just an issue for black and ethnic minority players, it is an issue for everyone who loves the game,” the PFA said in a statement.
“The PFA calls for a government enquiry into racism and the rise in hate crime within football and immediate and urgent action from an All-Party Group at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to address this urgent issue.”
Tweet by @PFA: “Racist abuse in football is not just an issue for black and ethnic minority players, it is an issue for everyone who loves the game.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office issued a statement expressing support for the efforts to stamp out racism.
“Clearly there remains more work to be done by the football authorities in tackling this issue and we are committed to working with them on this to stamp it out,” a spokesman said.
“The FA, Premier League and English Football League have significantly stepped up their efforts, but we expect them to continue to prioritise this issue and to consult with both players and supporter groups,” the spokesman added.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said any fan found guilty of a racially aggravated offence could face a six-month prison sentence and a 10-year ban from football matches.
Rudiger left Italian club after lack of action over racism
Rudiger, a German international, urged the Spurs to find and punish the individuals who directed the abuse at him.
“I really hope that the offenders will be found and punished soon, and in such a modern football ground like the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with dozens of TV and security cameras, it must be possible to find and punish them,” he wrote on Twitter.
Tweet by @ToniRuediger: “I don’t want to involve Tottenham as an entire club into this situation as I know that just a couple of idiots were the offenders. I got a lot of supportive messages on social media from Spurs fans as well in the last hours – thank you a lot for this.”
“If not, then there must have been witnesses in the stadium who saw and heard the incident. It’s just such a shame that racism still exists in 2019. When will this nonsense stop?”
It is not the first time he has been the target of the abuse, having faced monkey gestures from the fans of Italian club Roma during a Champions League match in October 2017.
Rudiger had left the Italian club in July that year after expressing his frustration at a failure to tackle racist incidents in Italy.
This season, Italian football has been plagued by racism, with Inter Milan’s Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku and Brescia’s Italian striker Mario Balotelli having been subjected to racist insults from rival fans during matches.
An anti-racism campaign which featured three side-by-side paintings of apes was branded a “sick joke”.
Across Europe, European authorities have been grappling with how to deal with increasingly frequent instances of racist abuse directed at footballers.
English internationals were the target of monkey chants during a Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria in October.