Football: UEFA takes action against Croatia for racism
(WARSAW) - UEFA on Saturday said it was taking action against the Croatian football federation for racism, after witnesses said they heard Croat supporters taunting Italy's Mario Balotelli and a banana was found on the pitch during Thursday's Euro 2012 Group C clash.
European football's governing body said it had opened disciplinary proceedings "for the setting-off and throwing of fireworks, and the improper conduct of supporters (racist chants, racist symbols)" at the match in Poznan, Poland.
"The UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body will deal with the case on 19 June," it said in an emailed statement.
Croatia's management refused to comment on the allegations at a news conference at their training camp base south of the Polish capital, Warsaw, on Saturday. A spokesman told reporters that a statement would be released later.
The action is the first case for racism in the tournament in Poland and Ukraine that started with fears of racist violence at football grounds in the host countries and which has refused to go away.
UEFA is already investigating separate claims that a section of Spanish fans racially abused Balotelli, who is of Ghanaian origin, and that Russian supporters taunted the Czech Republic's Theodor Gebre Selassie, who is of Ethiopian descent.
Dutch players also alleged they heard monkey noises during a public training session in Krakow, southern Poland, although no official complaint was made.
UEFA has already threatened Russia with a six-point deduction from its next European championship qualifying campaign if there is any repeat of the crowd trouble that marred their opening Group A match with the Czech Republic.
The latest allegations involving Balotelli, who is one of the most well-known footballers in Europe, emerged after an AFP photographer and a racism monitoring body said they heard racist chanting at the Italy-Croatia match.
The photographer, who was positioned in front of the majority of Croatia fans during the match, which ended 1-1, also saw a steward pick up a banana from the pitch.
Balotelli, 21, has previously said that he would walk off the pitch if he were racially abused during a match.
The executive director of the UEFA-backed Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), Piara Powar said their observers had reported the matter to UEFA and that an inquiry will be launched.
"Our observers reported between 300-500 Croatian fans were involved in racist chanting in the match against Italy. That is a big number. It was fairly intermittent but progressive throughout the game. It intensified when Balotelli was substituted.
"Our Italian observer is a fairly seasoned football fan and said he was shocked by what he had seen and heard. We have given a report to UEFA and they will now open an inquiry. We are looking at what other evidence there may be."
The Italian football federation on Friday said that neither Balotelli nor any other player had mentioned either being abused or the throwing of a banana, although officials were unhappy at booing during the national anthem.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, though, had strongly rejected the previous claims of abuse against the player during the country's match with Spain.
The announcement of fresh action against Croatia comes after UEFA on Friday fined the country's football federation 25,000 euros ($31,400, 20,000 pounds) after fans lit flares and let off smoke bombs to celebrate goals in their opening match.
Missiles were also thrown and a spectator got on to the pitch in Croatia's 3-1 win against the Republic of Ireland, which was also held in Poznan.
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