Manchester City’s under-21 players left the pitch during a pre-season friendly match in Croatia after midfielder Seko Fofana was allegedly racially abused by an opponent. Manager of City’s Elite Development Squad, Patrick Vieira, entered the field of play and ordered his players off, a decision backed by first-team manager Manuel Pellegrini (via BBC Sport).
City were playing HNK Rijeka as part of their preparations for the new season, and a club statement said: “A decision was taken by the management staff to withdraw from the field and cancel the game."
However, Rijeka hit back. Here's what he said to BBC Sport:
Manchester City coach Patrick Vieira entered the field, something was discussed with the referee, and then to the amazement of a well-filled stadium he took his team off the pitch. What are the reasons? They are known only to him.
It’s the latest high-profile incident in football involving racism, showing once again that, although much progress has been made over the past 20 years, the game has a long way to go in its quest to rid itself of racial discrimination.
And City’s under-21 side and their staff should be praised for taking the decision to leave the field of play in protest. The idea that abandoning a match is unprofessional or allows racism to "win" is absurd. Only by clubs taking such a stand will the message that racism cannot and will not be tolerated get through to those who perpetrate it.
What’s become increasingly clear in recent years is that the game’s governing bodies, and in particular UEFA, cannot be trusted to take a firm stance in the fight against racism.
In 2012, City themselves were fined £25,000 by UEFA for failing to return for the second half of their match with Sporting Lisbon on time. Yet Porto, whose fans were found guilty of racially abusing the former City striker Mario Balotelli in a UEFA Cup match earlier that year, were fined £8,000 less (via Daily Mail).
With that kind of mixed message being sent from the top, is it any wonder racism persists in the stands and on the field?
In Russia, where racism appears far more prevalent than in England, Zenit St Petersburg were fined £2,100 in 2012 after their fans were heard making monkey noises towards black players in the Lokomotiv Moscow side.
A paltry, pitiful sum that was dwarfed by the £11,000 fine received by Emmanuel Emenike a month earlier when he made an offensive gesture towards Dynamo Moscow fans who had racially abused him during a game.
City’s EDS side, led by Vieira, have made a strong stand that has received far more attention than if they had simply played out the remainder of the match and left it to the authorities to deal with. Every player has the right to leave the field of play if one of their friends and colleagues is on the receiving end of racial abuse.
Pellegrini, who is in the U.S. with his players as they prepare to defend their Premier League crown, backed Vieira, saying to BBC Sport:
I don't know too much about what happened. But if Patrick took that decision I think it was correct because I am sure Patrick did the best thing. It is impossible to continue with those kinds of things during a game.
It's a problem that simply won't go away. As recently as May, Balotelli, who has suffered a series of incidents involving racism, was allegedly subjected to vile racism from one of his own supporters during a training session involving the Italian national side (via Daily Mail).
It came on the back of abuse he received from Roma fans during a game in 2013. And Italy, more than most countries in Europe, must accept it has a problem with racism and begin to deal with it more effectively.
Only when more teams take a stand like City’s EDS side have done in Croatia will the problem be rooted out of football once and for all.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_