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Champions League: Referee's Remark Investigated After Teams Walk Off In Protest

Basaksehir's manager Okan Buruk, right, argues with referee Sebastian Coltescu during a Champions League soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir in Paris on Tuesday.
Francois Mori AP
Basaksehir's manager Okan Buruk, right, argues with referee Sebastian Coltescu during a Champions League soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir in Paris on Tuesday.

A Champions League soccer match resumed on Wednesday with a new set of officials, after the original Tuesday game was postponed following an incident of alleged racism by an official that resulted in both teams walking off the pitch.

The incident began 14 minutes into Tuesday's match in Paris between soccer clubs Paris Saint-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir. A match official, Sebastian Coltescu, told referee Ovidiu Hategan that Basaksehir assistant coach Pierre Webo should be sent off the field for his sideline conduct.

While speaking with Hategan, Coltescu was accused of using a racial term in referring to Webo, a Black man, as The Associated Press reports:

"Go and give it (the red card) to the Black one, this is not possible (tolerable), go and identify him, go verify, the Black one over there," Coltescu allegedly said, in Romanian, about Webo. Webo was enraged and was heard to repeat at least six times "Why you say negro?" as he sought an explanation from Coltescu. Webo, who was visibly distressed, then added: "He can't say negro, he can't say negro." At this point, [Basaksehir player Demba] Ba could be heard also questioning what Coltescu had said. "Why is the fourth official saying 'negro'?" Ba said twice. Moments later, Ba then came off the bench and stood in front of Coltescu and said: "Why, when you mention a Black guy, you have to say, 'this Black guy'?"

After more discussion on the field, both teams left the pitch, in what The Guardian reports is thought to be the first such protest in Europe.

UEFA, soccer's governing body in Europe, put out a statement on Tuesday that the match would resume the next day with a new team of match officials. The body says it "will be conducting a thorough investigation. Racism, and discrimination in all its forms, has no place within football."

According to UEFA's disciplinary regulations, which apply to officials as well as players and coaches, any person who "insults the human dignity of a person or group of persons on whatever grounds, including skin colour, race, religion, ethnic origin, gender or sexual orientation" incurs a suspension of at least 10 matches.

Piara Powar, executive director of the anti-discrimination-in-soccer network Fare, told the AP that the walk-off by both teams "lays down a marker in Europe" and shows that "many players are fed up with half measures to tackle racism."

"Our colleagues at the Romanian state anti-discrimination organization have confirmed it is racist in Romanian to refer to a player by using his race as an identifier," Powar said. "There is no ambiguity. This incident shows the need for much better training of match officials. Unintentional racism is still racism."


Paris St. Germain's most prominent players made their opinions known. "SAY NO TO RACISM. M. WEBO WE ARE WITH YOU," wrote Kylian Mbappé. "BLACK LIVES MATTER," tweeted Neymar.

The president of the Romanian football federation, Răzvan Burleanu, told the Romanian sports news website ProSport that more details are needed on what exactly happened.

"If it is proved that we are talking about racism, there will be no understanding on my part," Burleanu said, according to a translation by The Guardian. "However, we must wait for all the actual details of this incident before drawing conclusions. The intention doesn't appear to have been to insult, I think that is obvious. The UEFA report will clarify the incident and the measure of guilt for those involved."

Before Wednesday's match, players on both teams warmed up wearing T-shirts that said "No To Racism." PSG won the match 5-1.

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