(Reuters) – FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said racism will not be tolerated at next year’s World Cup in Russia, adding that referees will have the power to stop or even abandon matches if discriminatory incidents take place.
Several players, including Brazil and former Zenit St Petersburg forward Hulk, have voiced concerns that racism could mar the tournament, saying such incidents are a regular feature of domestic league games in the country.
Infantino said in a video statement that anti-discrimination was a “high priority” for FIFA, and that the organization would deal with offences firmly.
“We’ll make sure that no incidents will happen and… we have for the first time in a World Cup the so-called, three-step procedure where a referee can stop a game or even abandon a game if there are discriminatory or racist incidences,” he added.
“We will be very, very firm on that so we can expect fair play in Russia.”
Infantino, who was elected FIFA president in February of last year, also said technology would play a big role at the tournament, although a final decision on using video assistant referees (VARs) would only be taken next year.
VAR, which involves officials watching the action remotely and drawing the match referee’s attention to officiating mistakes or missed serious incidents, is already in use in the top-flight leagues of Germany and Italy.
“I think it is absolutely normal that in 2018 we can explore and see how we can help the referee and the team to take the right decision,” Infantino said.
“So video assistant refereeing is a topic which will be decided in March of next year but the experience so far has been extremely positive to help the referee not to commit big mistakes which obviously as a human being he can do.”
Goal-line technology will be used during the World Cup, he added, having been used for the first time at the 2014 edition of the tournament in Brazil.
Russia is also caught up in a doping scandal, and Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko on Tuesday downplayed the issue of doping among its soccer players, saying reports on them using performance-enhancing drugs were an attempt to discredit the country.
Infantino said robust testing procedures would ensure a fair tournament.
“Obviously all players in all teams will be tested in competition and out of competition by WADA-accredited laboratories and… and fair play will reign in this respect,” he said.
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge