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Turkey: Alleged racism in Champions League game sparks backlash

Turkish social media users condemn apparent abuse against Istanbul Basaksehir coach, while Erdogan says France is 'country where racist rhetoric, actions are intensified'
Basaksehir's French forward Demba Ba (R) gestures past Paris Saint-Germain's players Neymar (L) and Kylian Mbappe after the game was suspended amid allegations of racism by one of the match officials, 8 December 2020 (AFP)

Turkish football fans showed support for Istanbul Basaksehir FC when they walked off the pitch during a Champions League match against Paris Saint Germain on Tuesday after one of their officials was allegedly subjected to racism by one of the referees. 

Basaksehir assistant manager Pierre Webo accused the Romanian fourth official Sebastian Coltescu of describing him as "negro" after he was given a red card during the match at PSG's Parc des Princes stadium in Paris.

The alleged incident took place when Coltescu was identifying the former Cameroon striker to the referee. 

TV footage showed Coltescu speaking Romanian and saying: “The black one over there. Go and check who he is. The black one over there, it's not possible to act like that,” after Webo protested a refereeing decision. 

Both PSG and Basaksehir later walked off the pitch after the incident with both teams releasing statements condemning racism.

Footage posted online showed Basaksehir striker Demba Ba confronting Coltescu and asking why he referred to Webo as "this black guy".

"You never say 'this white guy', you say 'this guy', so why when you mention a black guy do you have to say 'this black guy?" asked Demba Ba. 

An official could be seen responding by saying that Coltescu's words may have been lost in translation and misunderstood. 

UEFA suspended the Champions League match between PSG and Istanbul Basaksehir after the incident.

'No to Racism' 

Turkish politicians were quick to criticise the incident, including the country's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"I strongly condemn the racist remarks made against Pierre Webo, one of Basaksehir's technical team, and I believe that the necessary steps will be taken by UEFA," Erdogan tweeted following the incident.

"We are unconditionally against racism and discrimination in sports and all areas of life #Notoracism."

On Wednesday, he told a press conference in Ankara that the incident was "unforgivable," and blamed France for the abuse, saying it had become a "country where racist rhetoric, actions are intensified".

Meanwhile, #Notoracism hashtag began trending on Twitter in Istanbul on Tuesday evening and through to Wednesday.

"It's a lesson to the world. I hope that the most severe punishment will be given to the referee who committed racism," tweeted sports commentator Evren Goz.

Opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu tweeted out a picture with the words "No to Racism" while the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party tweeted "we stand by you against racism, Webo. We will continue to say stop racism yesterday, today and tomorrow everywhere."

Some on Twitter, however, pointed out the hypocrisy of some in Turkey criticising racist abuse of one of their players while excusing other forms of racism in their own country.

The hashtag #kürtlere also began trending in Istanbul, with a number of users highlighting the double standards applied to the racism levelled at Webo compared to the racism directed at Turkey's Kurdish minority.