England star Raheem Sterling has called on the Premier League to show the way to other European countries in the fight against racism.
Sterling and his England team-mates were subjected to racist chants during Sunday's 5-1 victory in a Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro in Podgorica. Sterling reacted by pulling his ears in front of the home fans when he scored England's fifth goal, with a missile thrown in his direction in retaliation.
Speaking after the game, the Manchester City winger demanded a stadium ban for Montenegro as punishment, while the Football Association released a statement on Tuesday which condemned “abhorrent racist chanting” during the game at the Gradski Stadion.
UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against the hosts, which includes a charge of racist behaviour - with a partial stadium ban a possible punishment.
But Sterling also faced alleged racist abuse while playing for City at Chelsea in December, the week after a Tottenham fan threw a banana skin at Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. And Sterling is adamant the Premier League clubs and authorities must set an example by taking a zero-tolerance approach.
“Banning one or two people is not going to change anything,” Sterling said in quotes reported by the British media on Tuesday.
“That's just one or two people and then there will be next game again and you are going to ban one or two fans again. I think there has to be a more serious take on this. The same rules should apply everywhere. It's no time to be just cancelling out two people's season tickets.
“I think that even if it is just two people, the whole stadium is getting it or the whole nation is getting it, so that will make people think a lot more.”
Sterling has highlighted the issue in the past, as has England team-mate Danny Rose after he was racially abused during an under-21 fixture in Serbia in 2012.
After the latest incident of racially-motivated abuse in Montenegro, Sterling said it is something he is always wary of.
“We know it's going to be hostile, horrible at times,” he replied when asked if he almost expects the issue when playing in eastern Europe.
“Yes, it's in the back of your mind. A few years ago it happened to Danny in Serbia.
“We knew it would be a similar atmosphere, we weren't thinking about racism, we were thinking more hostile, swearing, up in your face. But it's a real shame. It's a real shame to be coming somewhere to be reminded of what skin colour you are, or what you resemble. I know what colour I am. It's just a shame that some people think it's cool to make fun of you for it.”
Asked if his celebration was an outpouring of frustration, Sterling added: “Not an outpouring of frustration, it was just to let them know you're going to have to do better than that to stop us.”
Having also spoken out about what he considered to be racism within the media industry recently, Sterling has become a reluctant figurehead in tackling the issue.
“I didn't mean to be a leader. I don't think I'm a leader,” he said. “It's just something I thought to myself that I'd been seeing for a while and I thought it was sad and I just wanted to bring awareness.
“I didn't say anyone was racist, I was just speaking about something that was serious at the time.”
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