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London – Former Arsenal and France midfielder Patrick Vieira on Friday urged the football authorities to adopt a zero-tolerance approach in the fight to rid the sport of racism.
The 36-year-old, who now works with Manchester City's youth set-up, says he never experienced racism while he was playing in England but admits that he has been shocked by a number of recent incidents.
In the latest in a spate of cases concerning allegations of racial abuse from supporters, the Football Association is investigating claims that West Ham United fans made anti-Semitic taunts during a match with Tottenham Hotspur.
It comes against a backdrop of high-profile incidents involving players, such as the four-game ban given to Chelsea's John Terry for racially abusing Queens Park Rangers centre-back Anton Ferdinand.
Vieira, who was born in Senegal, believes the only solution is to introduce stricter punishments.
“If you really want to fight racism, if you really want to show to the world that football wants to fight against it, you will have to use a deduction of points against clubs or kick them out of competition,” Vieira told British newspaper The Times.
“That will stop it, of course. If you kick a club out of Europe because they couldn't control their fans, it will happen once and I will guarantee it's not going to happen twice.
“If nothing is done, the situation will get worse and worse and you never know where things will go.
“Before we get to a place where you can't control it any more, you have to stop it straight away and the only way you can stop it is to have clear, strong punishments.
“Of course, we all need a second chance, we all need to realise that we are doing something wrong, but if you do it again, the punishments should be really hard.”
Portuguese star soccer player Luis Figo waded into the debate on Wednesday telling AFP that he believed that racism was not a football problem, but a wider social ill.
“It's not a problem of football,” said Figo, a retired midfielder for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter, as well as former linchpin of his Portuguese national side.
“It's like everything. In a stadium of so much people, you always find some part (that) are not so intelligent. I think it's a problem of our society, it's not a problem of only football,” he added. – Sapa-AFP