CAIRO, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Europe needs to do more to stamp out racism in its football and to free up Africa's players to play for their countries, African soccer chief Issa Hayatou said on Wednesday.
His comments were backed by FIFA president S¦epp Blatter who, hardly containing his anger towards European clubs, said:
'Clubs bringing pressure to bear on players is not respectful. I will not use the word by which I should identify such activities.
'They take the best players out of Africa, they are happy to make a lot of money and prestige with them, but when it comes to giving back something to Africa, they don't want to do it.
'This lack of respect is something we have to go over.'
Hayatou, the president of the Confederation of African Football, told CAF's Congress that the continent had won its battle against apartheid in South Africa but that the fight against racism was not over.
Recalling a meeting with then-South African leader Nelson Mandela when his country hosted the African Nations Cup a decade ago, Hayatou said: 'They were unforgettable moments.
'It was without doubt the most just, the most noble battle the continent has ever won - and we played our part.
'But unfortunately, the fight against racial discrimination is never over. The news we have been getting regularly, notably from Europe, obliges us to be extremely vigilant.' In a direct call to Blatter and UEFA president Lennart Johansson, Hayatou said: 'Help us. Make sure that those responsible for racist acts are unmasked and condemned, and ... prevented from highlighting differences.
'It is down to you to act firmly to safeguard our most precious possession - football.'
Hayatou, speaking two days before the Nations Cup kicks off in Egypt, then took a swipe at European clubs who he said were selfishly treating football as an accounting exercise in their dealings with African national teams.
In comments that were later backed by Blatter, Hayatou said: 'I would like to address the clubs who, using pressure, find a way of holding on to our players who have been called up by their national sides. It is a worry for all of us.
'We have abided by the international calendar established by FIFA...and football in our countries has a significant social role.
'It is the best basis for national unity, which can at times be a fragile thing.
'Football provides a means of identity, something which brings our peoples together. Football is a driving federal force - not a game reserved for the few.
'It is not unfair to ask for understanding, respect and humanity, in an atmosphere of mutual understanding, while at the same time respecting the interests of all sides.
'Do not lock yourself into an egotistical and a purely (financial) accounting approach to football.'
His views were shared by Blatter, who was visibly angered by the attitudes of some clubs when speaking later at a news conference.
Slamming the clubs for their attitude, Blatter added: 'If we have a dialogue with clubs for the 2008 Nations Cup in Ghana, we will not have the same situation.
Otherwise, we would have failed, the family would have failed to bring back this mimumim of respect.'
Blatter also pointed out that the Nations Cup schedule had been agreed at a FIFA Congress, where clubs were represented by their national associations.
'We have to have more discipline and more respect in football,' he said.
'When it's been decided by the Congress of FIFA, the whole family of football, the members of this family should respect those decisions.'
The club-versus-country row has become acute with the array of African talent now playing abroad. A third of the players at the 2006 Nations Cup are drawn from clubs in 19 European countries.
FIFA and UEFA both have anti-racism campaigns designed to tackle incidents that have marked in several European leagues in recent seasons, notably in Italy and Spain.