LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Sports Minister Hugh Robertson and Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of England’s Professional Footballers Association, were among those calling for FIFA president Sepp Blatter to resign on Thursday following his comments on racism.
The 75-year-old Swiss has faced widespread criticism following his remarks on Wednesday when he said in two separate TV interviews there was no racism in football and that players involved in any racist confrontations on the pitch should settle their differences with a handshake at the end of the match.
The comments from the head of world soccer’s governing body have provoked a furore in England where the FA is dealing with two high-profile racism allegations.
Blatter has responded to one of his critics — Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand — by becoming involved in a slanging match with the player on Twitter.
Robertson, asked on BBC radio if Blatter should quit, said: “Yes, we’ve been saying this for some time. This is incredibly serious but it is part of a pattern of behaviour.”
Taylor said Blatter had now gone too far.
“This goes beyond the line. To talk like he did shows he is totally out of tune, and out of time,” he told Sky Sports News.
“He should move aside for (UEFA president) Michel Platini. If one person should get it about racism it is the head of FIFA which has 200 countries in the world, which are so diverse and have different backgrounds, colours, cultures and creeds and if he is not getting it then he’s got to move on.”
Asked if he should resign, he said: “I think without a shadow of a doubt.”
Blatter’s comments were televised on the same afternoon as the English FA charged Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez of Liverpool with racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra last month. Suarez is pleading not guilty to the charge.
The FA and police are also investigating allegations of racial abuse by England and Chelsea captain John Terry towards Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand last month. Terry denies the accusations.
There has been a predictably vehement backlash in England towards Blatter with The Sun’s front page headline “Blind as a Blatt” making the tabloid’s feelings known while many pundits have called on him to quit.
European newspapers were less forthright, with some major ones like Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport not mentioning the controversy at all on their website, but Switzerland’s Blick talked of a “racism storm”.
Rio Ferdinand - Anton’s brother — was one of many critics, saying on Twitter that he was “astonished” by Blatter’s comments.
“Sepp Blatter your comments on racism are so condescending it’s almost laughable. If fans shout racist chants but shake our hands is that ok?” Ferdinand wrote. “I feel stupid for thinking that football was taking a leading role against racism — it seems it was just on mute for a while.”
Ferdinand also implied in another tweet that a picture on the FIFA website of Blatter with a “black man” was an attempt to limit the damage caused by the FIFA president’s comments.
Blatter then tweeted back: “@rioferdy5. The ‘black man’ as you call him has a name: Tokyo Sexwale. He has done tremendous work against racism and apartheid in Africa.”
Blatter gave interviews to broadcasters CNN and Al Jazeera.
Asked if there was racism on the pitch he 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.”
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.”
Blatter attempted to play down his remarks afterwards by issuing a statement where he pledged his commitment to stamping out racism.
“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,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
Blatter, whose organisation has been beset by corruption allegations in the recent past, has made a series of gaffes over the years.
He called on women players to wear skimpier kits and upset homosexuals by saying they should not engage in sexual relations at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
The Swiss also said England were “bad losers” after they missed out on hosting the 2018 World Cup to Russia and has become a figure of hate among English media despite being adored in other parts of the world such as 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa.
Editing by Mark Meadows