Gary Neville has reiterated the call for direct action against racism by players walking off the pitch – and admitted he was “ashamed” not to have done so in support of former team-mate Ashley Cole.
Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger reported being targeted by monkey chants during the second half of the 2-0 win at Tottenham – where there were three stadium announcements saying that “racist behaviour among spectators is interfering with the game”.
Following the match, in which Son Heung-min had been sent off for a challenge on Rudiger, former England defender Cole, a pundit on Sky Sports, was asked for his views on the incident and spoke of the abuse directed at him during his playing career.
Neville played in the England team with Cole – who, along with Shaun Wright-Phillips, was subjected to racist abuse during a 2004 friendly against Spain in Madrid.
Neville said: “Ashley was abused at the Bernebeu in a game I played in and probably did not give it a moment’s thought really.
“We are thinking it as football players, then ultimate you hear about it when there is a media storm, with calls for UEFA, for FIFA, for the Spanish authorities to deal with it… similarly recently with Bulgaria (against England).
“But we have a racism problem in the Premier League in England. And the Premier League have to step up, they hide behind the FA on this issue.”
Neville also accused the major political parties of “fuelling racism and accepting racism within their parties” during the recent general election campaign.
He said: “If it is accepted within the highest office in the country, we are not talking about it at a micro level, we are talking about an absolutely enormous level.
“Maybe we have to empower the players to walk off the pitch and stop the entertainment while it is happening. That is the only way I can see it happening.
“I did not walk off the pitch when Ashley was abused 15 years ago, and you might argue that now it’s okay for me to sit here in my ivory tower of a commentary box and suggest that players should walk off the pitch.
“Ultimately I would be ashamed of myself for not doing (it) 15 years ago as I would be absolutely proud of players for doing it now to empower them to think, do something about it and take it into your own hands.”
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