DUBAI // Fifa president Sepp Blatter has given his support to Kevin-Prince Boateng, the AC Milan midfielder who on Friday walked off the pitch during an exhibition match after being racially abused by spectators, but added such actions do not represent a solution and the only way to deal with racism in football is harsher sanctions by governing bodies.
Boateng, a Ghana international, was followed off the field by his teammates during a friendly with Pro Patria, a fourth-tier Italian club, and has since said he would walk off again if subject to racism, regardless of the occasion and opposition.
Blatter, who often speaks about discipline and respect in the game he has governed since 1998, told The National that Fifa operates a "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to racism and said Boateng's actions perfectly illustrate that fans cannot act in such a way.
"I have just learnt about this, but we have to have no tolerance in racism; absolutely no tolerance," Blatter, who is touring the Middle East this week, said.
"This action is an example that the spectators must behave well because, as I understand it, the player ran away and the others went with him. They cannot go on abusing afterwards."
Fifa have previously warned players and clubs against walking off the pitch in protest, but Boateng said football's world governing body must in turn do more to eradicate racism.
“So many people in Fifa can do something and they should wake up and do it,” he said.
“They should not tolerate it. They should ban people for ever from the stadiums. That’s the first thing you can do.”
Blatter was quoted in 2011 as saying “there is no racism in football” and suggested players who are subject to racial abuse should forget about it and move on because “it’s just a game”.
The president was forced to apologise after international outcry and yesterday reiterated his belief that player action is not the answer.
Stronger punishments must be administered, he said. “Walk off? No. I don’t think that is the solution,” he said. “But the Italian federation have yet to provide Fifa with the report detailing what exactly has happened.
“I don’t think you can run away, because eventually you can run away if you lose a match. This issue is a very touchy subject, but I repeat there is zero tolerance of racism in the stadium; we have to go against that. The only solution is to be very harsh with the sanctions – and the sanctions must be a deduction of points or something similar.”
A Fifa spokesperson said the officials’ report should have reached the governing body by now and added that had it been a Champions League game, it would have likely been received on Saturday.
Clarence Seedorf, the former Milan midfielder, told BBC Radio Five Live that he too was against players walking off the pitch during a game.
“I don’t feel it’s such a fabulous thing,” the Dutchman said. “These people will feel empowered now. They should just be identified and kicked out of the stadium.”
Reports in Italy said several people were arrested after the match, while another five were charged with racial abuse the following day.