Manchester City youth team coach Patrick Vieira has been praised for taking his players off the pitch after an alleged racist incident in a pre-season friendly.
The club’s head of the elite development squad made the decision after 19-year-old French midfielder Seko Fofana was allegedly racially abused by an opponent a minute before half-time during the match against HNK Rijeka in Novigrad, west Croatia.
Vieira, a Senegalese-born former France international, has received the full backing of Piara Powar, executive director at anti-discrimination network FARE.
Manchester City's EDS U21 game with HNK Rijeka has today been cancelled due to an alleged incident of racial abuse… (1/6)— Manchester City (@ManCity) July 22, 2014
“We are not, in the short term, able to stop this sort of incident happening but to have someone like Patrick Vieira, with his status, do this makes the message very clear,” Powar told Press Association Sport.
“The message it sends out is categorical. It is just the sort of thing which will create change.
“We have got to challenge any situation in that regard.
“Where it involves young players and it happens in a friendly match, which is of little consequence, you have to look at damage it might do to them and safeguard them against that.
“We hope it will educate their (Croatia’s) younger players in the future, particularly when they play more teams with more diversity but I am sorry to say I think it will continue.
“Rijeka are professing puzzlement as to why the team were taken off but I don’t think Patrick would have done that without good cause.”
…toward the Club's young midfielder, Seko Fofana by a member of the opposing team. (2/6)— Manchester City (@ManCity) July 22, 2014
Powar said his organisation, which is active in more than 40 European countries, would be raising the matter with FIFA and he urged City to do the same.
“Under-21 matches are governed by FIFA and I hope Manchester City are going to make a complaint and pursue it,” he added.
“If it was bad enough to take the team off I would hope they would make a complaint.
“We will be alerting FIFA to this. FIFA’s reaction this summer to incidents reported in the World Cup this summer was to turn a blind eye to it.”
Following an alleged incident in the latter stages of the first half of the game, being played in Novigrad, Croatia… (3/6)— Manchester City (@ManCity) July 22, 2014
City reacted quickly to Tuesday’s alleged incident, which according to the club’s Twitter feed followed moments after Fofana had been sent off for an off the ball clash, issuing a statement to clarify Vieira’s actions.
“Manchester City’s EDS U21 game with HNK Rijeka has been cancelled due to an alleged incident of racial abuse toward the club’s young midfielder, Seko Fofana by a member of the opposing team,” said a statement on mcfc.co.uk.
“Club representatives in Croatia and in Manchester are liaising with officials, the match organisers and the Croatian Football Association to pursue this matter further.”
…a decision was taken by the management staff to withdraw the City team from the field of play and cancel the game. (4/6)— Manchester City (@ManCity) July 22, 2014
HNK Rijeka, however, appear to have distanced themselves from speculation that one of their players made racist comments towards Fofana.
A statement on their website – which now appears to have been removed – read: “Manchester City coach Patrick Vieira entered the field, something was discussed with the referee, and then to the amazement of a well-filled stadium he took his team off the pitch. What are the reasons? They are known only to him.”
Club representatives in Croatia and in Manchester are liaising with officials, the match organisers… (5/6)— Manchester City (@ManCity) July 22, 2014
It is not the first time City’s players have been involved in such incidents.
CSKA Moscow were ordered by UEFA to close part of their stadium after midfielder Yaya Toure was racially abused during a Champions League match in October.
Porto were fined £16,700 in April 2012 after their supporters directed racist chants at Toure and striker Mario Balotelli, who has since left the club, during a Europa League tie.
Youth team striker Devante Cole, son of former Manchester United and Newcastle forward Andy, was racially abused by players and supporters during a UEFA Youth League match against Atletico Madrid in February.
…and the Croatian Football Association to pursue this matter further. (6/6)— Manchester City (@ManCity) July 22, 2014
Vieira’s decision to lead his side off the pitch is not the first time players have taken direct action in the face of abuse.
Midfielders Kevin Constant and Kevin-Prince Boateng both walked off with their team-mates in separate incidents while playing for AC Milan while Watford’s Under-19s did similarly during a match in Italy in December.
Neither FIFA nor the Croatian Football Association have yet responded to the incident.