Croatian club HNK Rijeka have strenuously denied any of their players racially abused Manchester City’s Seko Fofana in a friendly.
City’s elite development squad coach Patrick Vieira took his team off the pitch when the 19-year-old French midfielder made the allegations after being sent off just before half-time.
It is understood the move was supported by City officials and Vieira has received the backing of anti-discrimination network FARE.
However, Rijeka have issued a statement in which they dismiss the allegations.
“Rijeka clearly and unequivocally rejects any possibility the players at the match against Manchester City participated in assaulting the rival players on racial, religious or ethnic grounds,” read a statement on the club’s website.
“We want to point out we had six players from the Nigeria squad, players who live and train together with our other players, who learned the Croatian language and who have never experienced any discomfort by team-mates — as they themselves can attest.
“We also want to point out that Rijeka, in co-operation with FARE, supports a campaign against racism and strongly condemns any incident of its kind.
“Because of this, we are surprised by the unpleasantly harsh and baseless accusations of which we are accused and that we completely reject.”
Ranko Buketa, who was in charge of Rijeka’s team on Tuesday, accused City of trying to divert attention away from Fofana’s actions which led to his red card.
“It looks like a move which is trying to hide a very ugly foul by the Manchester City player that resulted in exclusion, followed by a hasty and illogical decision of the coaching staff to withdraw the team from the field,” he said.
Piara Powar, executive director at FARE, felt Vieira, a Senegalese-born former France international, did the right thing.
“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 said.
“The message it sends out is categorical. It is just the sort of thing which will create change. 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.”
Powar said his organisation, which is active in more than 40 European countries, would be raising the matter with Fifa and urged City to do the same.
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 and Watford U19s took similar action during a match in Italy in December.
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