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Racism in football: "The message being sent is devastating"

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FC Porto's Moussa Marega was the first player to walk off the pitch in a high-profile game after hearing racist chants from supporters on Sunday.
FC Porto's Moussa Marega was the first player to walk off the pitch in a high-profile game after hearing racist chants from supporters on Sunday.   -   Copyright  AP Photo   -   STR
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The head of world players' union has told Euronews that "everybody in football and beyond needs to be doing more" to address the issue of racism.

It follows a number of high-profile incidents across Europe of racist chanting and abuse from the stands directed at players.

The General Secretary of FIFPRO, Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, says there is a need for "urgency and leadership" to tackle the problem.

Baer-Hoffmann also said the sanctions in place to tackle racist abuse are "clearly ineffective".

"The message that is being sent to players and society is devastating".

On Sunday, Mali and FC Porto forward Moussa Marega was subject to abuse during a match in Portugal.

Marega walked off the pitch in protest, despite efforts from teammates to restrain him.

On Monday, FIFPRO announced that it will support players or teams who walk off the pitch due to racism and provide assistance "in any way necessary".

"Sanctions have had no significant effect"

In a statement, the union said they were "deeply concerned for the well-being of the players who are subjected to this type of hurtful discrimination".

"We as players must play our part in supporting our colleagues, act in solidarity with them and support their choice of action in light of the abuse targeted at them."

FIFPRO also stated that the existing three-step protocol and sanctions for dealing with racist incidents in football matches was "failing".

"Sanctions passed by sporting organisations have had no significant effect and law enforcement in many countries has failed to provide appropriate responses to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes – whether in stadia or online".

AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru
The match between Bulgaria and England was halted after Bulgarian supporters were seen giving Nazi salutes and making monkey noises.AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru

FIFPRO added that the sport needs "a progressive and united approach" to introduce more effective measures.

"Football competition organisers, employers and governments have a duty of care towards players exposed to discrimination on the field of play, their workplace."

FIFPRO has previously offered support individual cases where players have walked off the pitch, but this is the first time they backed the action on a general basis.

High-profile instances of racism in European football

In October, a European Championship Qualifying match between Bulgaria and England was halted twice after racist chants and salutes from some Bulgarian fans.

The punishments of a fine and stadium ban from UEFA were criticised by anti-discrimination groups for being "too lenient".

The UK-based organisation, Kick It Out, said they were "disheartened but not surprised" by UEFA's response.

In November, UEFA's anti-racism protocol was also initiated after Italy's Mario Balotelli suffered racist abuse from supporters.

Balotelli attempted to leave the pitch in protest but was persuaded to continue playing.

Anti-discrimination groups subsequently urged football - and society - to not prevent players from leaving the pitch and walk off with them in solidarity.

AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File
Inter Milan's Romelu Lukaku was subject to racist abuse from opposition supporters during a match in September.AP Photo/Luca Bruno, FileLuca Bruno

In the last four months, players in Spain, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom have all been subject to racist abuse.

Following an instance in the Netherlands, a joint letter was sent to UEFA by more than 140 MEPs, led by Samira Rafaela, calling on UEFA to combat racism in European stadiums more vigorously.

In Portugal, Moussa Marega received support from the country's Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who expressed "total solidarity" with Marega on Twitter.

Jonas Baer-Hoffmann told Euronews that the response to racism "needs to go far beyond football".

"The public needs to be very proud of these players"

"We have an acceptance of much more hateful speech coming into the rest of the society and there is no question that this is filtering into stadia."

"Clearly, football stadia provide an enormous platform for racists to spread their message and we can’t allow that."

Steven Paston/PA via AP
Fans display a banner calling for an end to racism during a match in England.Steven Paston/PA via APSteven Paston

Baer-Hoffmann added that FIFPRO is taking an active role in working with those affected.

"We have been talking with these players in these [recent] instances and have been supporting them".

"It is important that the public understands that players walking off the pitch are a sign of strength"

"It is them facing what is being thrown their way, and not accepting it, but actually taking a stand and forcing all of us to get to grip with how we are dealing with the problem".

“The main reason why we are having this debate is because of the activism by players".

"The public needs to be very proud of these players in how they respond to it".