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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Full of Eastern sadness
England striker Emile Heskey fights for the ball
Heskey was taunted by more than 20,000 Slovakia fans

Sadly, Emile Heskey is no stranger to racist chants.

And sadly, if we cast a quick glance over the latest spate of investigations carried out by Uefa into racial abuse, Eastern European club sides feature with alarming frequency.

Indeed, they feature too frequently for "coincidence" theories to be bandied about.

Heskey was again subjected to mindless racial abuse, this time from Slovakia fans, who saw their team defeated 2-1 by England.

It is testament to the bustling striker's strength of character that he did not let the monkey noises directed at him detract from his performance for his country.

But it can't be easy for the Liverpool forward to always display such sang-froid.

In March 2000, Heskey suffered a verbal and physical battering during an England Under-21s victory over Yugoslavia in Barcelona.

On that occasion, the striker also claimed he was spat at.

The football anti-racist group, Kick It Out, immediately called for any Yugoslav player who spat at Heskey to be banned from European games by Uefa and the Yugoslav football authorities to punish any fans guilty of racial abuse.

At the time, the Kick It Out spokesman Piara Powar noted: "Some of the most recent cases of racial abuse have happened in the context of European club football.

"Lucas Radebe, of Leeds United, suffered when they played Slavia Prague, while Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke were targeted when Manchester United faced Fiorentina.

"However, we are concerned that historically Uefa has not taken any action. There has been a wall of silence."

Lazio's Sinisa Mihajlovic squares up to Patrick Vieira of Arsenal
Mihajlovic directed racial abuse at Vieira

That wall of silence has since been dismantled brick by brick as Uefa has had to address the increase in racism in football across Europe. (Incidentally, Italian fans turned on Heskey in November of the same year.)

One of the most high-profile cases which brought matters to a head involved Sinisa Mihajlovic of Yugoslavia and then Lazio and Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira.

Mihajlovic was handed a two-match ban by Uefa after admitting to insulting Vieira in reference to his colour, but he denied the remarks were meant to be racist.

A hollow public apology also followed.

The Mihajlovic incident came just weeks after Leicester City's black players were on the receiving end of constant abuse from Red Star Belgrade fans during a Uefa Cup tie.

Fast-forward two years and FK Sartid, of Yugoslavia, were fined 10,799 for the racist behaviour of their spectators towards Ipswich players.

CSKA Sofia may still be punished following the evidence of racial abuse during their game with Blackburn Rovers.

Leicester fans protest against racism
Foxes fans make their feelings known

And while Hajduk Split were cleared of any charges, Fulham felt compelled to make an official complaint after their recent Uefa Cup tie with the Croatian side.

While it would be foolish to suggest that racism in football is the exclusive preserve of Eastern Europe - it quite obviously is not following recent events in Holland, Italy, England, Spain, Germany - it is without question an issue which must be confronted.

The extreme right-wing element, which is often behind racist chants at football matches in Italy and Holland, cannot be attributed as the cause in the Eastern Europe, where many countries are experiencing Western-style democracy for the first time.

So it is more a sociological and cultural issue. The simple fact is that there are few black people, let alone black footballers, in those countries under the spotlight.

And given that countries like Yugoslavia and Croatia have other major issues to deal with - improving the lot of their citizens politically and economically for a start - means a drive for greater racial tolerance is unlikely to be high on the agenda.

This does not make the racist chants excusable, and for some it is unlikely to make the matter any more understandable.

But unless there is a massive change in the demographics of Eastern Europe or a multi-million pound Uefa initiative to re-educate football fans in the offending countries, the problem will remain.

BBC Newsnight's Robin Denselow
"Racism in football is back on the agenda"
England's Emile Heskey
"The chants do get to you"
FIFA spokesman Marcus Siegler
"I don't support a boycott"
How should Uefa punish Slovakia?


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13 Oct 02 | England
11 Oct 02 | Europe
10 Oct 02 | Football
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