Paris Saint-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir staged an unprecedented joint walk-out over alleged racism by a Champions League match official on Tuesday, prompting UEFA to suspend the game and launch an investigation.
Both teams left the pitch after a lengthy touchline row which erupted when the Romanian fourth official, Sebastian Coltescu, appeared to describe Basaksehir assistant coach Pierre Webo, the former Cameroon international, as “black”, or “negru” in Romanian.
The group game in Paris, which was goalless at the time, was suspended and will resume where it left off, in the 14th minute, on Wednesday, with a different set of match officials.
Many athletes have taken a strong stand against racism since Black Lives Matter protests flared around the world over the death of George Floyd during his arrest in Minneapolis in May.
PSG striker Kylian Mbappe tweeted, “Say no to racism”, while team-mate Neymar posted, “Black Lives Matter”. Both players were prominent in the heated discussions on the touchline.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is understood to be close to Basaksehir’s owners, tweeted that he “strongly condemn(s) the racist remarks”, while Romanian-born French sports minister Roxanna Maracineanu praised the players’ “historic decision”.
Basaksehir midfielder Giuliano told Brazilian media: “(The comment) was very clear, many people heard, including our coach. It was disgraceful.
“As a team and a group, we decided to protest because that is unacceptable. Racism has to end.”
The row blew up after Webo was shown a red card. Television microphones in the empty Parc des Princes stadium then picked up a furious Webo repeatedly asking why a racist term had been used to describe him.
In the exchange in question between the all-Romanian officiating team, Coltescu said: “The black one over there. This is not possible. Go and identify him. That guy, the black one.”
Basaksehir’s Senegal international striker Demba Ba, among the substitutes for the away side, could be heard remonstrating with the official, saying in English: “When you mention a white guy, you never say ‘this white guy’, you just say ‘this guy’, so why when you mention a black guy do you say ‘this black guy?’”
‘No to racism’
UEFA promised a “thorough investigation” into the incident and confirmed the match would restart at 1755 GMT on Wednesday.
European football’s governing body said it had “decided on an exceptional basis to have the remaining minutes of the match played (Wednesday) with a new team of match officials”.
UEFA’s regulations for the Champions League stipulate that, normally, any team refusing to play must forfeit the game and also faces a fine of 250,000 euros ($303,000).
Danny Makkelie of the Netherlands was named as the referee for the remainder of the game, with the other officials from the Netherlands and Poland. They replace Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan, his two assistants and Coltescu.
The president of the Turkish champions said his side refused to restart the game as long as the fourth official was still involved.
“The fourth official used the word ‘negro’ in front of everybody. If the fourth official is removed from the pitch, then we will restart,” Goksel Gumusdag told Turkish television channel TRT Spor.
Basaksehir responded to the incidents by tweeting “NO TO RACISM #Respect”, along with a photo of UEFA’s anti-racism logo.
The message was retweeted by PSG, who later tweeted their support on their English-language feed.
“All forms of racism go against the values held by Paris Saint-Germain, the club’s Chairman, staff and players,” the French champions said.
Despite the interruption of the match, played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, PSG qualified for the last 16 from Group H after RB Leipzig beat Manchester United 3-2 in Germany.
However, PSG will need to win the game in order to finish on top of the group above Leipzig.