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Oct 14, 2008

Atletico hit by stadium ban

Atletico Madrid have been hit with a stadium ban for their next two home Champions League fixtures as UEFA handed out their heaviest punishment so far for racism.

Due to the trouble that flared during last month's European match against Marseille the Spanish club, who were also fined €150,000, will have to play their group games against Liverpool and PSV Eindhoven at a venue at least 300 kilometres outside of Madrid.

European soccer's governing body said the punishment could be extended to a third match away from the Vicente Calderon stadium should there be repeat of crowd trouble or racist chanting within the next five years.

Atletico coach Javier Aguirre has also been banned for his club's home and away fixtures against Liverpool on October 22 and November 4 for insulting Marseille player Mathieu Valbuena

Last week England vice-captain Rio Ferdinand had publicly criticised UEFA and FIFA for their seemingly lenient stance against racism, saying the paltry fines handed out did nothing to stop the problem.

Speaking after the Croatian FA was only fined £15,000 for their fans' racist chanting during last month's 4-1 World Cup qualifying defeat to England in Zagreb, he said: "They make a lot of comments about what they are going to do but they never back up the words with actions. Croatia were fined a few thousand quid. What good is that going to do?"

UEFA spokesman William Gaillard explained the reasons for UEFA's stringent action against Atletico, which follows Monday's announcement that England will refuse to play in Madrid when they take on Spain in a friendly in February because of past racist incidents.

Gaillard said: "This shows our renewed determination to show zero tolerance towards racism. We had a great Euro (2008) with outstanding fan behaviour and we want our club games to be played in the same spirit.''

Gaillard also said he understood why England players may be reluctant to return to Madrid where they were targeted four years ago.

He added: "I understand the players' fears. That is exactly why we are acting with renewed strength - to make sure that in the future England players will not be threatened by this kind of behaviour."

In a statement on their website UEFA added that Atletico were charged with a lack of organisation during the Marseille match, which led to crowd incidents, and for the improper conduct of their supporters.

The Primera Liga club, who have until midday Friday to respond to the punishment, released a statement on their official website that said Atletico's lawyers were looking into the matter.

Meanwhile, Liverpool have complained that the relatively late decision to move their game from Madrid has caused "disruption" to their fans.

"To say the decision is a bit late in the day, is to put it mildly," said chief executive Rick Parry.

"We have 3,000 fans going to the game and we are extremely concerned for our supporters, the vast majority of whom have already made travel arrangements.

"If the match is played at least 300 kilometres from Madrid, it will cause major disruption, inconvenience and large additional expense for our fans.

"UEFA have to take their needs into account when making a final decision on the game."

UEFA sympathise with Liverpool and have pledged to minimise problems for the 3,000 fans who have already booked a trip; but have defended the stadium ban saying there was "no alternative''

Gaillard said: "We are in touch with Liverpool because we are concerned about the fans. We know they face hardship and disruption and we sympathise with that, but we needed to punish Atletico Madrid. We have no alternative.

"What would people have said if Liverpool went there and the players and fans suffered the same treatment?"

Gaillard said they were already talking to the club about moving charter flights and UEFA would help in any way they could.

"We are looking at the logistics and seeing what help we can provide,'' he added.

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