Marie Woolf, Sunday Times Whitehall Editor Published: 19 February 2012
England footballers who stop playing mid-match during the Euro 2012 championships as a result of racist or anti-semitic abuse or chanting will have the full support of the government, the sports minister has said.
Speaking ahead of this week’s Downing Street summit on discrimination in the sport, Hugh Robertson said there should be zero tolerance for bigotry during the tournament.
His remarks come as Europe’s football authorities come under pressure to increase efforts to tackle bigotry ahead of the competition in Poland and Ukraine in June and July.
John Mann, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-semitism, will present evidence showing the extent of anti-semitism and neo-Nazi culture in the European game. It will include photographs of Ukrainian supporters wearing swastika T-shirts and holding up neo-Nazi flags as well as other fans turning themselves into a swastika formation.
The Football Association said it would also support England players who stopped during a match to complain to the referee about racist abuse from fans or other players.
To raise awareness about anti-semitism, the England team is expected to visit Auschwitz or another Holocaust memorial during its visit to Poland. The team will be based in Krakow.
During last year’s qualifiers, black England players were subjected to abuse in eastern Europe. The Bulgarian FA was fined £34,000 by Uefa, the body organising Euro 2012, after their fans made monkey noises at the defender Ashley Young.
Robertson said: “If England players are upset by racist chanting and wish to stop play as a result of it, they would absolutely have my support.”
He said Uefa was working to stamp out such behaviour and introduce measures, such as the removal of offensive banners, to prevent it.
This week’s summit, which will be attended by David Cameron, was called after a number of alleged racist incidents on the pitch in Britain.
John Terry has been suspended from the England captaincy pending his trial for alleged racist abuse of Anton Ferdinand, the Queens Park Rangers player, in a game last year. Terry denies the charge.