UEFA ‘needs to do more’ to combat discrimination, admits Aleksander Ceferin

UEFA needs to change how it deals with discrimination in football, according to president Aleksander Ceferin.

European football’s governing body has been heavily criticised over what have been seen as some lenient sanctions related to incidents of racism, including the punishment imposed on the Bulgarian federation after England’s black players were racially abused during a Euro 2020 qualifier last October.

Bulgaria were ordered to play one game behind closed doors, with a further match suspended for two years.

Ceferin accepts there is more that needs to be done, and UEFA statutes were amended at its annual Congress to pave the way for Bobby Barnes, the European president of world players’ union FIFPRO, to join its control, ethics and disciplinary body later this year.

“In the last three seasons, the UEFA disciplinary bodies have imposed 73 partial stadium closures and ordered 39 matches to be played behind closed doors following incidents of discrimination,” Ceferin said in his address to Congress.

“That shows that we are doing what is currently in our power to do. But it also shows what a serious problem it is, and that we need to do more. More, and perhaps differently, so that we can be proud of ourselves once again.”

He called on national governments to help UEFA, rather than criticise it.

“It doesn’t help if something happens and some politicians go to the media and start shouting that UEFA should do more, because we cannot arrest people, we cannot sanction people,” he said.

“We can sanction clubs, we can sanction national associations, but still we need the support. It’s a societal problem.

“All society should work together on this issue which is becoming worse and worse I would say because of this strange situation in Europe.

“People need to be educated – children should know what is diversity, that racism is a bad thing. Parents should be included. So it’s a big, big issue.”

Barnes’ appointment requires the ratification of UEFA’s executive committee, with the amendments to statutes voted on at Congress coming into effect from July 1.

He hopes his appointment can provide the disciplinary committee with greater perspective, and said: “I think there have been a few incidents where you felt the decisions that have been taken perhaps wouldn’t have been taken by a wider group with perhaps a wider focus.

Bobby Barnes, left, pictured with Virgil Van Dijk at last year's PFA player of the year awards
Bobby Barnes, left, pictured with Virgil Van Dijk at last year's PFA player of the year awards

“So I would hope that moving forward, by adding some perspective and context to some of these situations, it might provide a greater understanding.”

Barnes, who experienced appalling racist abuse during his own playing career, added: “One thing I’m always keen to slap down is the accusation of tokenism.

“Yes, I am a black person, but I didn’t just come into this role off the playing field, I’ve been working in football administration for 21 years now.

“I’ve been on the FIFA stakeholders’ committee for several years, I’ve been on the UEFA strategy council for several years, so I think I do bring an experience not only on the field but also having worked in the administration of the game.”