FIFA’s Blatter downplays claims of racism

By Graham Dunbar ,AP

GENEVA — With several top soccer players facing allegations of hurling racial abuse at opponents on the pitch, FIFA President Sepp Blatter sparked an angry reaction on Wednesday by suggesting that players involved in such incidents could settle the matter with a simple handshake.

His comments sparked outrage in England where authorities are investigating two high-profile cases of alleged racial abuse among players during recent Premier League matches. Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, whose brother Anton was the target of an alleged slur by England captain John Terry, wrote on Twitter that he was “astonished” by Blatter’s reported comments. “Sepp Blatter your comments on racism are so condescending its almost laughable. If fans shout racist chants but shake our hands is that ok?” Ferdinand wrote. “I feel stupid for thinking that soccer was taking a leading role against racism … it seems it was just on mute for a while.” Blatter’s comments come on the same day that Liverpool forward Luis Suarez was charged by the English Football Association with racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, who is black. Evra told French TV that Suarez used a racist slur “at least 10 times” during United’s 1-1 draw at Liverpool in the Premier League. Suarez has denied the allegations and has been backed by his club throughout the investigation. Terry has said his comments were taken out of context, but is being investigated by the FA and London police. Seeking to calm a growing furor, Blatter issued a further statement through FIFA that his comments on had been “misunderstood,” and that he is taking the issue of racism seriously. “I am committed to fighting this plague and kicking it out of soccer,” Blatter said. “What I wanted to express is that, as soccer players, during a match, you have ‘battles’ with your opponents, and sometimes things are done which are wrong. “But, normally, at the end of the match, you apologize to your opponent if you had a confrontation during the match, you shake hands, and when the game is over, it is over.”

The FIFA president had earlier turned to Twitter trying to calm the growing anger in England. “Racism and discrimination of any kind have no place in soccer,” Blatter wrote. “I have said this many times before, and I will say it again and again.” “However — and it is not an excuse — sometimes, in the heat of the moment, things are said and done on the field of play,” he wrote. “This does not mean that, in general, there is racism on the field of play.” In the interview with Al-Jazeera, Blatter sought to defuse suggestions that racism and discrimination were problems in world soccer. “During a match you may make a movement towards somebody or you may say something to somebody who is not exactly looking like you, but at the end of the day it is forgotten,” Blatter insisted. “Racism is if there are spectators or, outside the field of play, there are movements to discrimination, but, on the field of play, I deny that there is racism.”