Sepp Blatter's claims provoke outrage
FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Wednesday night provoked a furious backlash after claiming racist abuse between players on the pitch should be settled by a handshake.
On a day when England's Football Association charged Liverpool's Luis Suarez with racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra, and with a racism investigation against Chelsea's John Terry still going on, in two television interviews Blatter said racism on the field of play is not a problem.
His suggested solution was for a handshake to settle any issue — provoking Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand to express his "astonishment."
Asked if he thought there was racism on the pitch, the FIFA president told CNN World Sport: "I would deny it. There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that.
"He should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.
"I think the whole world is aware of the efforts we are making against racism and discrimination. And, on the field of play sometimes you say something that is not very correct, but then at the end of the game, the game is over and you have the next game where you can behave better."
He also said on Al Jazeera: "During a match you may say something to someone who's not looking exactly like you, but at end of match it's forgotten."
Manchester United and England defender Ferdinand said on his Twitter account: "Tell me I have just read Sepp Blatter's comments on racism in football wrong... if not then I am astonished.
"I feel stupid for thinking that football was taking a leading role against racism.....it seems it was just on mute for a while.
"Just for clarity if a player abuses a referee, does a shake of the hand after the game wipe the slate clean??"
Players chief Gordon Taylor told BBC Radio Five Live: "It's ironic that Sepp Blatter should come out and talk like that because we've worked hard to get FIFA to have anti-racism on the agenda.
"It's very insensitive and inappropriate at this time.
"When as the president of FIFA he's got to be shouting from the top of the hills that it's unacceptable on the pitch. We want players to set an example to the rest of the world and particularly the supporters."
A FIFA statement after the interviews read on Wednesday: "Sepp Blatter has been campaigning against racism in football for many, many years.
"His comments today in no way reflect that passionate stance."
Blatter released a statement on www.fifa.com to clarify his stance on fighting racism, claiming his comments had been misunderstood.
The statement said: "I would like to make it very clear, I am committed to the fight against racism and any type of discrimination in football and in society.
"I have been personally leading this battle against racism in football, which FIFA has been fighting against throughout the past years through campaigns in all of our competitions such as the 'Say no to racism' campaign.
"I also know that racism unfortunately continues to exist in football, and I have never denied this. I know that it is a big problem in society, and that it also affects sport.
"I strongly believe that we should continue to fight all together against racism on and off the field of play, in order to eradicate this plague.
"My comments have been misunderstood. What I wanted to express is that, as football players, during a match, you have 'battles' with your opponents, and sometimes things are done which are wrong. But, normally, at the end of the match, you apologise to your opponent if you had a confrontation during the match, you shake hands, and when the game is over, it is over.
"Anyone who has played a football match, or a match in any sport, knows that this is the case.
"Having said that, I want to stress again that I do not want to diminish the dimension of the problem of racism in society and in sport.
"I am committed to fighting this plague and kicking it out of football."
Ferdinand continued to express his digust at Blatter's comments and directly contacted the FIFA president's Twitter page, writing: "@SeppBlatter your comments on racism are so condescending its almost laughable. If fans shout racist chants but shake our hands is that ok?"
Anti-racism group Kick It Out also condemned Blatter and claimed his comments revealed a "worrying" lack of leadership on the subject.
"These comments are worryingly out of touch," the statement began.
"Shaking hands to compensate for a racial slur is not what the game has signed up to, and trivialises the work of campaigns like Kick It Out, which has been in the vanguard of rooting out discrimination and unacceptable behaviour in our game for the best part of two decades.
"High profile incidents have brought the issue of racism back into sharp focus.
"But complaints are still being lodged at grass roots level.
"Shaking hands doesn't resonate with the zero-tolerance approach we encourage and certainly wouldn't resonate with the victim of the abuse.
"Report the incident to the regulatory body, and the investigation process begins.
"If it's found to be proven, action must be taken. New challenges and questions are being posed in this field every day.
"But leadership is needed to make headway. And comments like this don't help in the ultimate goal of kicking racism out football and making it a discrimination free zone."