Montenegro official issues partial racism apology in England

AP , Tuesday 2 Apr 2019

England's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring his side's fifth goal during the Euro 2020 group A qualifying soccer match between Montenegro and England at the City Stadium in Podgorica, Montenegro, Monday, March 25, 2019 AP

A week after Montenegro fans racially abused England players, a partial apology from the country was delivered in person at Wembley Stadium.

Montenegro Football Association general secretary Momir Djurdjevac, speaking at a UEFA conference on discrimination on Tuesday, insisted it was yet to be proven that monkey chants were hurled at players in the European Championship qualifier.

Djurdjevac said a number of officials inside the Podgorica stadium didn't hear the abuse decried by England players, including the country's president, prime minster, sports minister, and Olympic committee head. Djurdjevac highlighted how the referee didn't stop last Monday's game and claimed the UEFA delegate didn't hear the abuse.

''I'm not saying it didn't occur,'' Djurdjevac said through a translator at the home of English soccer. ''They were a handful of idiots and because of those three or four idiots, Montenegro has been pilloried.''

After being charged by UEFA for the abuse of Danny Rose, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Raheem Sterling, Montenegro is facing having part of its stadium closed for a game.

''For the sake of all of us and the sake of the media I would like to apologize to all those who have gained a very bad impression from Podgorica and let the disciplinary inspectors of UEFA do their work unfettered,'' Djurdjevac said.

In an interview with The Associated Press after the session at the ''Equal Game'' conference, Djurdjevac directly addressed the victims of racial abuse in the England team.

''I would like them to come to Montenegro again, so we can enjoy watching them play, so we can greet them with cheers,'' he said. ''In case it is proven that they were insulted in Montenegro, that was an act of a few individuals, a few fools, for whom there would be no space in our stadium any more.''

The conference was opened by UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin expressing his anger at the ongoing racism at matches

''I am ashamed that here in Europe not the weekend goes by without discriminatory acts taking place in a football stadium,'' Ceferin said. ''I am ashamed to see extremist movements use our sport as a vehicle for their messages of hatred and intolerance. A stadium must not, and must never be, a forum in which people are allowed to express their sickening fascist nostalgia.''

Hudson-Odoi, an 18-year-old forward, was also subjected to racist abuse last month while playing for club side Chelsea during a Europa League game in Ukraine against Dynamo Kiev.

UEFA is planning to remind referees to enforce the three-step process that should see games stopped, suspended or ultimately abandoned if racist abuse continues.

''They know about it, but they are people, and it's hard to decide whether to act or not. It's a big step,'' Ceferin said. ''But we will speak to them and tell them to be brave.''

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