Westminster’s Diocesan Chaplain for Sport has urged football’s governing bodies to issue abusive fans with yellow and red cards in an effort to kick racism – as well as all forms of abuse – out of the sport.
Mgr Vladimir Felzmann, who is also CEO of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, has also called for education to tackle racism. His call comes after England stars were racially abused during their 5-1 victory over Montenegro in Podgorica last month.
Mgr Felzmann has urged the UK to take the lead in tackling the international racism problem in football, calling on the English Football Association (FA) to implement new laws that could see fans being warned about their behaviour before abandoning the match if it were to continue.
If such a rule were to prove successful, it should then encourage football’s international governing body, FIFA, to implement either the same law or a similar one, he said.
“Spectators could, theoretically, be treated as players with yellow and red cards,” Mgr Felzmann told The Catholic Universe. “Starting within the UK, the FA can teach FIFA how to do it and perhaps prove it works.”
The chaplain explained that fans could be warned over the PA system, and via match day programmes, if any abuse is seen or heard.
“They will be warned – by the PA system – once,” he said. “If the racism continues, be warned once again and then, if it still continues, the players walk off the field and the next match is in an empty stadium.”
Mgr Felzmann suggested that such a rule could lead to peer pressure from “more civilised supporters” in order to prevent those wanting to shout abuse to stay silent.
“If this were to happen even just once, the racists might realise the cost is too high to continue racist abuse,” he said.
“Whether the authorities have the courage to take this on is – as Brexit – a moot point.
“If this strategy were to sort out any UK problems the rest of our global city, with its many varying cultures, might take racism more seriously.”
Mgr Felzmann, who was head of RE and a chaplain in a London school for 12 years, also insisted that there is a need for education in order to tackle racism and the primitive vision of ‘the other’.
“Education at school and home should teach young people that God is the Father of us all whatever our colour or race,” he said. “That takes time as all too many families see ‘others’ as a threat.”
Following England’s victory over Montenegro on 25th March, Manchester City’s star winger Raheem Sterling admitted the possibility of being racially abused is something he considers every time he plays in certain parts of the world.
Sterling reacted to the racist abuse by pulling his ears in front of the home fans when he scored England’s fifth goal, with a missile thrown in his direction in retaliation.
Speaking after the game, he called for a stadium ban for Montenegro as a suitable punishment, while the FA released a statement condemning ‘abhorrent racist chanting’ during the game at the Gradski Stadion.
European football’s governing body UEFA subsequently opened disciplinary proceedings against the hosts, including a charge of racist behaviour.
England football captain Harry Kane said it is vital that the sport’s leaders take the right action over racism as he collected his MBE from Buckingham Palace last week, while Manchester United’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku said England’s players should have walked off the field during the game “to make a statement” against racism.
Meanwhile, England boss Gareth Southgate underlined the need for education when tackling the kind of racism endured by England’s players, while Downing Street urged UEFA to take ‘strong and swift action’.
This weekend’s Premier League & FA Cup fixtures:
Saturday 6th April
FA Cup Semi-Final
Manchester City v Brighton & Hove Albion – 5:30pm
AFC Bournemouth v Burnley – 3:00pm
Huddersfield Town v Leicester City – 3:00pm
Newcastle United v Crystal Palace – 3:00pm
Sunday 7th April
FA Cup Semi-Final
Watford v Wolverhampton Wanderers – 4:00pm
Everton v Arsenal – 2:05pm
Monday 8th April
Chelsea v West Ham United – 8:00pm
Picture: England’s Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring his side’s fifth goal of the game during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group A match at the Podgorica City Stadium. (Nick Potts/PA).