Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara’s treatment at the hands of Czech schoolchildren has sparked a diplomatic row and calls for UEFA to take more action against racism.
Rangers approached UEFA over the booing of Kamara while Scotland’s players’ union declared the “sickening abuse” strengthened calls for Europe’s governing body to do more.
However, Sparta Prague called for “xenophobic attacks” on the children to stop and the British ambassador to the Czech Republic has been summoned to a meeting by the country’s foreign minister.
Kamara’s every touch was booed during Rangers’ 1-0 Europa League defeat by Sparta on Thursday, which came months after the Finland international was the victim of on-field abuse which saw Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela given a 10-match UEFA ban for racism.
Kamara, who received a three-match suspension after he was found guilty by UEFA of assaulting Kudela in the Ibrox tunnel in March, was sent off to huge cheers on Thursday after receiving two yellow cards.
The 10,000 crowd consisted mainly of children, plus some adult supervisors, after UEFA partially reneged on a full closure of the Letna Stadium after punishing Sparta for their fans’ racist abuse towards Monaco’s Aurelius Tchouameni.
After watching the game back, Gerrard declared the abuse towards Kamara was clear and repeated his calls for tougher sanctions against racism.
He added: “I have been told that Rangers are going to take it up with UEFA, I think that has already happened and the wheels are already in motion, and I certainly will be pushing from my direction to make sure that’s the case.”
In a statement, PFA Scotland condemned the abuse.
“As we all know, this is not the first time Glen has suffered sickening abuse on the pitch, but the fact that this time it came from the mouths of children through sustained booing is beyond alarming and only strengthens the call for greater sanctions from UEFA for this type of behaviour,” the union said.
“We are not blind to the problems within our own country, including racism, discrimination and sectarianism. In recent weeks, we have seen players across all levels of or game subjected to racist abuse from our stands – it HAS to stop.”
However, Sparta hit back and told their critics to “stop attacking our children!”
In a lengthy statement, the club praised the children for creating a “wonderful and unique atmosphere”.
They added: “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.
“We ask the representatives of Rangers FC to do their part to stop the xenophobic atmosphere directed towards our children, our beautiful country and its inhabitants.”
Czech foreign minister Jakub Kulhanek soon backed Sparta, declaring on Twitter: “Enough! Intentionally spread disgusting insults of Czech children in the media and on the internet do not belong in football and not in good relations between the two countries at all.
“I will summon the British ambassador on Monday and resolve the matter with him.”
Sparta accused Kamara’s legal representative, Aamer Anwar, of “online bullying” after he described the scenes as “shameful” but the Glasgow-based lawyer was unrepentant.
Anwar said in a statement: “The question that must be asked is why would children target Glen Kamara? Is it because after Glen complained about racist abuse by a Slavia Prague player, he was then demonised by their fans, Czech journalists and even their politicians.
“Glen was also subjected to a diatribe of race hate and threats which was never addressed by the Czech authorities.
“Racism does not happen in isolation, children pick up what happens around them and that is why it was so depressing to watch, yet another cycle of prejudice in Prague.
“I spoke to Glen this afternoon, he says he just wants to get on with playing football. Whilst Glen was saddened at the abuse he received from children, he wonders what would have happened had the stadium been full of adult fans.
“He said he switched off his phone last night due to the racist bile which has not stopped. Glen is a total professional, but nobody should have to put up with racism on or off the pitch.
“UEFA’s response is sadly the usual pathetic silence, until they start to kick clubs out of competitions for racist behaviour nothing will change.”
He added: “As for Sparta Prague’s statement, I do not comment on personal abuse and attacks, it might be better if the club started to actually deal with racism.
“I also see that the Czech Foreign Minister has summoned the UK ambassador on Monday to discuss ‘insults’ about Czech children, maybe his government should take the opportunity to address the deep-rooted racism that exists in their country.”