England manager Gareth Southgate has stressed his players will follow UEFA protocols if they experience racist chanting during forthcoming European Championship qualifiers.
The Three Lions are in the Czech Republic for their next game and on Monday face Bulgaria, where the match will be played in a partly-closed stadium because of problems with racist chanting in the past.
UEFA’s three-step protocol in the event of the referee or other officials becoming aware of racist abuse from supporters inside a stadium begins with an announcement over the stadium’s public address system ordering the abuse to stop.
If it persists the referee will take the teams off the field for a reasonable period of time. If the abuse continues after that break, then the game is abandoned.
Speaking ahead of Friday’s fixture with the Czechs, Southgate said: “There is a UEFA process and we have to have faith in that process. Everything else is hypothetical as we don’t know the situation we will be in as a team or I will be in as a manager.”
Striker Tammy Abraham said earlier this week that the team are prepared to ignore UEFA protocols and leave the field if there is any repeat of the sort of abuse directed at England’s black players during the qualifier in Montenegro in March.
Southgate added: “The most important thing for me is that all of the players and all of the staff know they are supported.
“Inevitably because we suffered a situation in Montenegro we wanted to be clear what might happen if something happened in the future. We are very clear on that.
“We want the players to be able to concentrate on football, they want to be judged on football.
“What I’ve got to do is provide a secure, safe environment for them to play.”
Southgate was asked if Chelsea striker Abraham saying the players would walk off was in conflict with his version of the team’s position.
The manager said: “We will experience a huge number of questions and anybody that gets one slight nuance adrift of the general feeling and what was discussed as a group is going to be flagged as a possible disagreement.
“That’s absolutely not the case, everybody is very clear. My players are being put in very difficult situations every time they are questioned on the subject and you feel one word out of place, one incorrect phrasing, leads to possible problems that could be flagged towards another team, made to make a story towards another team or potentially made to look as if there is a split or disagreement within our camp.
“We’re 100 per cent united on how we see things. The players, at the same time, have the right to have a voice. They should speak their mind, openly, and I encourage them to do that because we have the chance to make a difference on a very important topic as well.”
Manchester City striker Raheem Sterling, who has spoken out against racism after suffering abuse during the 5-1 win away in Montenegro, backed his manager’s call to let UEFA take action.
Sterling said: “As a player, with the situation that happened in Montenegro, I don’t think as a team we were quite prepared and knowing there was a protocol in place.
“As a team, we had a meeting and Gareth sat us down and explained there was a UEFA protocol. Now as players we have got to kind of give UEFA a chance to take that responsibility on board and deal with that situation.
“At this moment in time, full faith in UEFA.”
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