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New Zealand abandons Qatar friendly at halftime over alleged racist comment

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The message was clear from FIFA president Gianni Infantino last week: “There is no football if there is racism! So let’s stop the games.”

That is what happened twice in international friendly games on Monday.

New Zealand and the Ireland Under-21 team both refused to continue playing after alleging players heard racially offensive comments from opponents Qatar and Kuwait.

New Zealand abandoned its game against Qatar at halftime in Austria after accusing a Qatari player of making a racist comment to defender Michael Boxall, who is of Samoan heritage.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Football New Zealand said the team refused to play the second half when the referee declined to take action. New Zealand was leading 1-0 in Ritzing.

The Irish soccer federation said its Under-21 team's game against the Kuwait Olympic team was stopped “after a racist remark was made by a Kuwaiti player towards one of our substitutes.”

“The (federation) does not tolerate any racism towards any of our players or staff and will be reporting this serious matter to FIFA and UEFA,” the Irish soccer body said on its Twitter account.

The incidents came days after Infantino restated FIFA's determination to tackle racism and discrimination after he visited Brazil star Vinícius Júnior at a training camp in Spain.

Vinícius, who is Black, has been the target of sustained racist abuse by fans in Spanish stadiums throughout the season while playing for Real Madrid, with little done by referees or soccer organizers to protect him.

Infantino last Friday said the player agreed to work with a FIFA task force that aims to "elaborate concrete and efficient measures to end racism in football once and for all.”

“It’s a football-related problem and we mustn’t look for excuses like: ‘It’s society’s problem, therefore, it’s fine in football.’ In the world of football, we must act in a very forceful way,” he said.

At the New Zealand-Qatar game, the incident happened after Qatar was awarded a free kick. The New Zealanders complained Qatar’s Yousuf Abdurisag made a racist comment to Boxall.

After a melee between the teams in the 40th minute, New Zealand captain Joe Bell complained to referee Manuel Schuttengruber, who shook his head, indicating he would not take action against the Qatar player.

“We fully support the action of our players, who agreed collectively this course of action," New Zealand Football CEO Andrew Pragnell said in a statement. “We never want to see a match abandoned but some issues are bigger than football and it is important to make a stand.”

Qatar coach Carlos Queiroz said on the television broadcast of the match that he had not heard the comment.

“The facts are the following. Apparently two players on the pitch exchanged words,” Queiroz said. “The New Zealand players decided to support their teammate just as our team decided to support our player.

“The referee did not listen (to what was said). It’s just an argument between two players. They decided to abandon the game with no witnesses," the former Portugal and Real Madrid coach said.

In European soccer, disciplinary cases after alleged racial abuse between players have been dropped because of a lack of witnesses to give evidence.

“It’s a new chapter in football which is, for sure, something nobody can understand," Queiroz said Monday. "Let’s let the football authorities make a decision. This game will be under observation from FIFA for sure.”

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The New Zealand Professional Footballers’ Association said it stood by the New Zealand players.

“We have contacted the team and will work with NZ Football to support the players in any way required," the NZPFA said. "There is no room for racism in our sport.”

The Qatar soccer federation posted a statement on Twitter stating just that New Zealand had withdrawn from the game which was part of its preparations for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Qatar was invited to the tournament which starts next week in the United States and Canada.


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