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'FIFA have got their priorities wrong'

RACISM: The England team have discussed what to do if players are subjected to racism during the World Cup in Russia

BEFORE THE England v Nigeria friendly match (June 2), I was in the audience when FA Chairman Greg Clarke told his English and Nigerian guests at Wembley how angry he was at a fine his organisation had received from FIFA.

As you know, football's governing bodies regularly dish out financial punishments for everything from letting flares off in stadia, "illicit" banners to failing to control players and poor safety procedures inside grounds. This fine, though – for £16,000 – wasn't for any of those offences.

The penalty was imposed because of a can of the energy drink Red Bull. Not because someone threw it at someone else or a player accidentally stepped on it causing an injury, but because it could be seen.

There it was in the England dugout at the Under-20's World Cup in South Korea last year. Worse still, an England player had a quick swig of it.

The official drink of FIFA is Powerade, so for that, the English FA is poorer by £16,000.

Fair enough, the rules are the rules and Powerade's parent company (Coca Cola) put huge amounts into the game so what's the problem with a financial smack on the wrist?

Well, what Mr Clarke said – and I tend to agree – is that when you start comparing the fine with the sums demanded of football associations whose fans subject opposing players to sustained, audible racist abuse that it looks like that FIFA have got their priorities wrong.

Take for example the Russia v France friendly in March in St Petersburg, a game which the France won 3-1.
Throughout, Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Ousmane Dembele and others were subjected to racial abuse including "monkey" chants. It was particularly noticeable when a corner was being taken.

FIFA – who proudly proclaim they have a "zero tolerance approach" to racism – took action. They fined the Russian Football Union £22,000. You don't have to be much of a mathematician to work out that's £6,000 more than the penalty for having a quick slurp of the wrong energy drink.

I described that decision at the time as "pitiful" and I stand by that.

FIFA may disagree with me. Their ruling took into account " the gravity of the incident but also the limited number of fans involved" and that's how they came to their decision.

I understand that these factors are important. How many people, for how long, how many previous offences there have been and so on are all to be considered, but it's not like football's governing bodies don't have what I might call "previous" for this.

In 2012, UEFA fined the Croatian FA £65,000 after 300-500 of their fans racially abused Italy's Mario Balotelli. The abuse included a banana being thrown at the former Manchester City striker.

That seems like a figure that's a little more proportionate – Croatia had twice been fined before for racism so that was taken into account – but it came not long after the Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner was fined £80,000 (and banned for a game) for displaying the name of a betting company on his pants.

But some news from UEFA has given me grounds for optimism pre-World Cup.

Zenit St Petersburg have been ordered to play a Europa League qualifier behind closed doors after fans abused RB Leipzig's (and soon to be Liverpool's) Guinean international Naby Keita.

While he received treatment for an injury, the fans chanted: "They Killed a Negro.”
As well as a ban, Zenit got a £44,000 fine.

You have to see that sanction as a step in the right direction but the key issue now is whether the regulators and administrators for both UEFA and FIFA’s diversity, equality and inclusion declarations fully understand the deep and hurtful effects incidents like these have on players and why they have little or no confidence in these regulatory bodies to deliver justice.

However, this new slight shift might the beginning of a new regime. We live in hope but it would be fair to say that I am not holding my breath, especially when they seem broadly less worried about the experience of our black players, fans and families and more concerned with any offence caused to their lucrative sponsors.

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