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Gianni Infantino: FIFA boss calls for automatic forfeit when fans commit racist abuse

Warning: This piece contains content which some readers may be offended by. AC Milan's players walked off pitch after goalkeeper Mike Maignan heard alleged racist chanting from Udinese fans; Coventry's Kasey Palmer also received alleged racist abuse at Hillsborough

UDINE, ITALY - JANUARY 20: Mike Maignan of AC Milan speaks with referee Fabio Maresca during the Serie A TIM match between Udinese Calcio and AC Milan at Dacia Arena on January 20, 2024 in Udine, Italy. (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)
Image: AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan and his AC Milan team-mates left the pitch during the match at Udinese

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has called for the implementation of an automatic forfeit of games for teams whose fans commit racist abuse after the “totally abhorrent” incidents at Udinese and Sheffield Wednesday.

AC Milan's players walked off the pitch after France international goalkeeper Mike Maignan reportedly heard monkey noises coming from a section of the crowd at the Stadio Friuli.

Coventry's Kasey Palmer said he received similar abuse at Hillsborough and their 2-1 win was stopped for several minutes while the match officials spoke to both managers.

Milan's players eventually returned to secure a 3-2 victory in added time but Infantino said there should be harsher punishments.

"As well as the three-step process [match stopped, match re-stopped, match abandoned], we have to implement an automatic forfeit for the team whose fans have committed racism and caused the match to be abandoned, as well as worldwide stadium bans and criminal charges for racists," he said in a FIFA post on X.

"FIFA and football shows full solidarity to victims of racism and any form of discrimination. Once and for all: No to racism! No to any form of discrimination!

"The events that took place in Udine and Sheffield on Saturday are totally abhorrent and completely unacceptable. The players affected by Saturday's events have my undivided support.

"We need ALL the relevant stakeholders to take action, starting with education in schools so that future generations understand that this is not part of football or society."

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Coventry's Kasey Palmer alleged he had been subjected to racist abuse at the end of their Championship match against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough

Maignan said something had to change as racist abuse has been part of football for too long.

"This shouldn't exist in the world of football, but unfortunately for many years this is a recurrence," he told Milan TV after confirming he heard fans making monkey noises.

"With all the cameras present and sanctions for these things, something must be done to change things.

"We all have to react, we must do something because you can't play like this."

Milan and city rivals Inter have both publicly supported Maignan, Serie A said it "condemns all forms of racism", while France striker Kylian Mbappe said "enough is enough".

"You are very far from being alone Mike Maignan. We are all with you. Still the same problems and still NO solution. Enough is enough. NO TO RACISM," Mbappe posted on X.

Former England and Arsenal striker Ian Wright applauded the "solidarity" in the Milan side and urged teams to "keep walking off" when they hear abuse and called for stronger sanctions.

He wrote on X: "We did 'playing through it' and nothing has changed. Points deductions needed, the fines are pointless."

However, Coventry midfielder Palmer admitted he was sceptical things would change in the game, also writing on X: "Racism is a disgrace… it has no place in the world, let alone football.

"I'm black and proud and I am raising my three kids to be the exact same. I'll be honest, it feels like things will never change, no matter how hard we try.

"Couple fans doing monkey chants don't define a fan base - I appreciate all the love and support I've received."

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Coventry's Mark Robins says nobody should have to deal with racism after Kasey Palmer suffered abuse during their match against Sheffield Wednesday

Coventry owner Doug King and manager Mark Robins condemned the abuse and offered their full support to Palmer, while Sheffield Wednesday said they were "shocked and saddened" by the alleged incident and anyone found culpable will face "the strictest possible sanctions from both Sheffield Wednesday and the law".

South Yorkshire Police is investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out commended Maignan and Palmer for their "courage".

"Now it's up to authorities and clubs to punish those responsible, but if clubs cannot prevent this happening, they too should face consequences," it said in a statement on X.

"We welcome stronger and more meaningful punishments, as called for by FIFA. It cannot be on the players to solve this.

"They are already showing courage under extreme distress and emotional trauma. They need support with actions not words."

Infantino urged to act | 'Clubs should be docked points for racism'

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The Daily Mirror's assistant editor Darren Lewis says football has a 'racism crisis' and believes the current strategies and protocols in place are 'not fit for purpose'

Darren Lewis, Sports Journalists' Association president and Daily Mirror assistant editor, speaking on Sky Sports News:

"Walking off has always been the answer. For decades, people have suggested play through it, don't let them win. If you walk off, you disrupt the game and they win. But the problem is that every time we have this debate, it's always the same thing: player expresses his disgust, club says we stand shoulder to shoulder, everyone else says, 'Oh, how terrible it is' for a day and then we move on until the next thing occurs.

"The FIFA president Infantino is calling for the automatic forfeits of games. You're the FIFA president. You don't need to call for anything, just do it.

"You've been the president since 2016. In that time, Sulley Muntari walked off the pitch in 2017 but was booked by the referee for complaining to him about the abuse he'd been receiving. Shakhtar Donetsk's Taison was punished in 2019, when he kicked the ball into the stand in response to abuse he'd had. In Spain [in 2021] Mouctar Diakhaby received racist abuse in a game against Cadiz when he was playing for Valencia. Where was Gianni Infantino then? He could have said all of this then, so what he's saying now sounds very much like a man playing to the gallery.

"Football has a racism crisis in England. It has a racism crisis in Europe. In world football it has a racism crisis, and the only way to address it is to leave the field of play. Not because you want to cause a problem for fans, players or whoever else but the facts are that when you go to work, you should not have to play in a situation like that.

"Three-step protocols do not work What you're doing is handing people, as we saw with England's players in Bulgaria, three opportunities to be racially offensive. It is a nonsense.

"The whole structure of football in the fight against racism is not fit for purpose. Gimmicks, advertising all of that clearly does not work.

"Infantino's got it wrong. In English football, we've got it wrong. We have not reached the point where we can go any further than say there is no place for racism in football and because of that, players must walk off. When they walk off a new order out of all of the chaos will be created where there is zero tolerance.

"I want to see clubs whose fans are racially abusive docked points. If we can do it for FFP and for money, we can do it for human beings."

Infantino has to act - rules need to change

Sporting Equals CEO Arun Kang told Sky Sports:

"I'm not surprised, more frustrated on the lack of movement in this area. Thinking back to the summer of 2020, there was talk of a commitment towards eradicating racial discrimination and racial abuse. We had the campaign of taking the knee but there just wasn't enough substance to it behind the scenes.

"It's great to see Maignan and Palmer be brave enough on the field but it shouldn't be down to the players at elite level or even grassroots level to take matters into their own hands - as it could lead to more harassment.

"It should be the authorities themselves who take this forward. Unless the football authorities understand and believe in what this cause is about, then we're going to have to do it ourselves.

"It's a real shame as I don't think it should be there. Officials should be looking at a zero tolerance approach to this. It should be a one-step process, like it is in society. You don't get a second chance. The three-step approach won't work.

"The incident should be assessed there and then, and if so the game should be abandoned. The footballing authorities don't have enough empathy at the highest level to understand how much this is damaging ethnically diverse communities. That's how you end up with eight years of just rhetoric."

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