Michel Morganella could not, from his own point of view, timed his Twitter rant against Koreans at a more inappropriate moment. The timing was far more effective than any of his tackles or interceptions in Switzerland’s 2-1 Olympic football defeat by South Korea.
Morganella later deleted his tweet and apologised but it was too late. The damage had been done, the Swiss Olympic team had ordered him home and all the on the eve of a fence-mending exercise between FIFA, its president Sepp Blatter, and the anti-racism Kick It Out pressure group at Wembley.
The 23-year-old Palermo defender faces disciplinary action from the Swiss football federation. Its decision, a probable suspension given the embarrassment caused, will be passed up to FIFA. The world federation, after its anti-racism upgrade, would then extend the ban worldwide – which would mean the start of Switzerland’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
Kick It Out and chair Lord Herman Ouseley had been infuriated by Blatter’s comment last autumn, in the wake of the John Terry and Luis Suarez rows, that heat-of-the-moment exchanges between players could best be settled by a handshake.
Blatter was speaking just as FIFA was taking up the handshake motif in building a connection with the Nobel Peace Foundation. However his comment was widely ridiculed and the link was picked up by Ouseley at the start of a Wembley reception which marked an agreement for a closer working relationship between the two organisations.
Witnesses to the ‘marriage of minds’ included FA chairman David Bernstein, the FA’s first female board member Heather Rabatts, FIFA’s first female executive Lydia Nsekera from Burundi and African football president Issa Hayatou. Blatter, Nsekera and Hayatou are all members of the International Olympic Committee currently and conveniently in town for London 2012.
Ouseley said: “Verbal abuse goes on all the time on football pitches in this country. It is driven by prejudice, ignorance, bitterness and hatred and most incidents do get resolved with an apology and a handshake . . . but racism has not bypassed football.”
He praised football’s increasing awareness of its responsibilities but urged greater awareness of the need to combat discrimination “in boardrooms, dressing room and staff rooms.”
Turning to the international outlook, Ouseley said: “FIFA is in a lead role globally and has a key role in both the developing world . . . but also in countries which are in decline – which is where we are at – and not only to concentrate on the poorest parts of the world.”
Blatter, welcoming the partnership with Kick It Out, said: “We want to launch this co-operation because you can never stop fighting against discrimination. We are doing a lot but it’s not enough.
“Racism has existed everywhere in the world since ancient times but to have racism in our game means something is wrong – because our game is based on discipline and respect. Our game is the school of life in the spirit of fair play, our game is based on discipline and respect.”
The accusations thrown at him over his original ‘handshake’ comment, had “touched me very, very much in my heart, to be told that I was a racist.”
Hence he insisted that both he and FIFA took with the utmost seriousness its responsibility. He added: “I’m sure my colleagues in FIFA will agree that, in the future, we should not have a banner which reads: Say No To Racism but, Kick It Out: Racism.”