Rio Ferdinand has told the Daily Telegraph that he fears for the safety of players following a spate of pitch invasions, but questions why calls for sanctions against clubs are not as strong when it comes to them being racially abused.
At the weekend, Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish was attacked from behind by a Birmingham City supporter, while a fan pushed Chris Smalling as they ran across the field during Manchester United’s match at Arsenal.
Former Manchester United and England defender Ferdinand called for more severe action — including point deductions — to avoid a situation similar to that of tennis star Monica Seles who was stabbed by a fan during a French Open quarterfinal match in 1993.
“The guy who attacked Grealish got 14 weeks in prison,” Ferdinand said. “If there are little, tippy-tappy punishments for things like that people will say, ‘That’s easy, that’s in and out [of jail] – not a problem.’
“There has to be a stiffer deterrent to stop these people committing these stupid, mindless acts. We saw the events at the weekend but they could have been a lot worse. You take your mind back to times like Monica Seles. That was something that ruined someone’s career and was a harrowing thing to see.
“There’s no doubt in my mind it could happen [in football]. Unless there’s a proper deterrent put in place I don’t see these things changing so I think you have got to deduct points from clubs. And the punishment for the individual has got to be much more severe than 14 weeks in a cell.”
Ferdinand went on to suggest the same approach should be used to tackle racist abuse in the game. Raheem Sterling and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are among the players who have been targeted during Premier League matches this season.
“When it was Raheem Sterling…when it was the incident with Aubameyang, I didn’t hear mention about points getting deducted,” Ferdinand said. “So you tell me what that says? That paints the picture right there. ‘Oh, it’s all right to be racist, we can just give them a fine and ban him for a few games.’
“But then someone comes on the pitch and attacks a player and it’s ‘deduct points.’ That shows you the issue.”