SAO PAULO (AP) — FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Thursday praised a sports tribunal decision to exclude a club from the Brazilian Cup after its fans racially taunted an opposition player.
Blatter's comments came as Brazilian authorities continued to interrogate some of the fans accused of being involved in the latest case of racism marring local football this year.
"I've said football MUST be stronger in tackling racism," Blatter said on Twitter. "Brazil has sent the right message, banning a team from the Cup due to 'fans' abuse."
Wednesday's unprecedented ruling against a top Brazilian team came less than a week after a small group of Gremio fans called Santos goalkeeper Aranha a "monkey" and were caught on camera making monkey noises toward the player at the Arena Gremio in the southern city of Porto Alegre.
FIFA has been constantly promoting anti-racism campaigns and condemning acts of discrimination in football across the world, though it has not always been directly involved in handing out punishment to those involved in racial abuse.
After a series of incidents of racism in Brazil earlier this year, Blatter and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said the World Cup in Brazil would take a stand against discrimination, though Blatter later acknowledged he was "not at all happy with the way we fought against racism" during the tournament.
Brazil's sports tribunal voted unanimous to exclude Gremio from the Brazilian Cup, the nation's second-most important competition behind the Brazilian league. The tribunal also fined the team coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari more than $20,000 and said fans identified as responsible for the insults will be banned from attending matches for two years.
A young woman caught by cameras yelling "monkey" from the stands was interrogated by police on Thursday and claimed she didn't intend to insult Aranha. According to Cleber Ferreira, the police investigator in charge of the case, the 23-year-old woman said she was just chanting randomly and not directly at the black goalkeeper.
After being identified though social media networks, the woman reportedly was suspended from her job and had to leave the city with her family because of the case's repercussion. She was crying profusely when she arrived at the police station to talk to authorities.
Racism is a crime in Brazil and the fans found guilty could face up to three years in prison.
Gremio, which will appeal the sports tribunal's decision, said it initially identified five people as responsible for the racial insults against Aranha in the Aug. 28 match won by Santos 2-0. The second leg in the tournament's round of 16 remains suspended until a final ruling is made.
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