Steven Gerrard, manager of Scottish football team, Rangers, says he’s “not surprised” Sparta Prague fans booed Glen Kamara during their 1-0 defeat in the Europa League on Thursday.
The Finnish midfielder alleged he’d been racially abused by Slavia Prague defender Ondřej Kúdela in March and Kúdela received a 10-match ban from UEFA. He missed out on playing in Euro 2020 for the Czech Republic as a result.
When Rangers returned to Prague for this match, the crowd started loudly booing when Black players, in particular Kamara, touched the ball.
Sparta’s Letna Stadium was supposed to be closed to fans for this match after UEFA sanctioned the club when fans directed racist chants at Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni.
However, UEFA allowed more than 10,000 children to attend Thursday’s match with some accompanying adults.
The 25-year-old was sent off in the 74th minute.
Gerrard said after the match that — while he did not hear the booing during the match when Kamara touched the ball — he was “not surprised.”
“If that’s the case and that is the truth, it’s obviously very disappointing. But I’m not surprised because we’re playing behind closed doors, apparently, for a reason and it’s not the first time there’s been issues at this place,” Gerrard told BT Sport.
The former Liverpool and England international also said football’s governing bodies need to do more to combat racism and discrimination.
“The powers that be don’t do enough. Tonight, the punishment was meant to be a fine and behind closed doors where you don’t play in front of any people,” he said.
“OK, there’s kids at the game and children, I understand that, but it’s near enough a full house so they’re not getting punished playing a game behind closed doors. That’s not the reason why we’ve lost the game but my opinion is if you’re going to fine someone and punish them, go with the full punishment. Empty stadium and a fine and more.”
Gerrard confirmed at his Friday press conference that’s he had watched back the footage and Rangers will write to UEFA to complain.
“I’m fully aware now having watched the game back with audio on. I’m actually surprised that I wasn’t aware of it during the game. I’ve spoken to Glen Kamara. That conversation will remain private. Glen’s OK … I’m sure he’s disappointed just like myself,” he explained.
“Now, I think it’s time for the authorities and club to step in and take that away from us so we can focus on the game on Sunday … These things keep raising their head far too often and, unfortunately, the punishments are not enough.
“I’ve been told that Rangers will take it up with UEFA. I think that’s already happened. The wheels are already in motion. I’ll certainly be pushing in my direction to make sure that’s the case.”
Sparta Prague replied to the allegations of racism with a strong statement titled: “Stop abusing our children!”
“It is absolutely unbelievable that after a match we have to watch innocent children being attacked and face unfounded accusations of racism. Insulting children on the internet and in the media is unacceptable, desperate and ridiculous,” it said.
“We are seeing unprecedented xenophobic statements against the Czech Republic, its citizens and even its children on the social medias,” it continued. “You are describing the behaviour of children incorrectly, arrogating to yourself the right to judge the expression of emotions of six-year-old children who have no idea what racism is. It’s an impertinence.”
Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek tweeted that he’d speak to the British ambassador about the situation.
“That’s enough! Disgusting insults of Czech children in the media and online don’t have a place in football, and definitely don’t have a place in the good relationship between [the UK and the Czech Republic]. I will summon the British ambassador on Monday to discuss the situation.”
Aamer Anwar, Kamara’s lawyer, criticized Sparta Prague, saying in a statement to Sky Sports News: “I had hoped when I heard of the stadium closure of Sparta Prague that both Glen and other Black players wouldn’t have to put up with any abuse or racism and could just get on with playing football.
“But this evening should be an embarrassment for the Czech side that, despite their fans being banned, it still made little difference that the stadium was filled with 10,000 schoolchildren.
“A huge proportion of those children booed Glen’s every touch of the ball along with every other Black player for Rangers. Tonight shows yet again that Prague has a serious problem with racism and as usual UEFA is nowhere to be seen.
“Glen and the Rangers players have shown total class, but no player should have to face this at their work and on the European stage.”