New Zealand allege racism, abandon Qatar friendly

Ben McKay |

New Zealand’s men’s soccer team have abandoned a friendly with Qatar, alleging racial abuse and inaction by officials, kicking the issue to FIFA for action.

The All Whites took the extraordinary step of refusing to come back out at halftime of a game they led 1-0.

NZ Football (NZF) put a short statement on its social media channels shortly after their protest.

“Michael Boxall was racially abused during the first half of the game by a Qatari player,” it read.

“No official action was taken so the team have agreed not to come out for the second half of the match.”

Socceroos legend Tim Cahill was caught up in the drama, on the Qatar touchline as one of coach Carlos Queiroz’s assistants.

The flashpoint came after a free kick late in the first half, following a foul on Qatar’s Yusuf Abdurisag.

Abdurisag then made comments to Boxall which caused several All Whites, including Boxall, to remonstrate with the player and the referee.

The friendly was played at Sonnenseestadion, in Ritizing in Austria, and officiated by Austrian referee Manuel Schuttengruber.

Captain Joe Bell was seen remonstrating with Schuttengruber as they left the field for halftime, when the All Whites made the decision not to return.

The broadcast did not capture the comments, which players and NZ Football have chosen not to share.

NZF chief executive Andrew Pragnell told AAP the All Whites should be proud of their actions.

“It was a unified decision by the entire planning group. They were resolute and adamant about it,” he said.

“They’re a values-based group of players who we’re really proud of.”

It was one of two such incidents in Austria on Monday (Tuesday morning AEST).

Ireland under-21s’ friendly against Kuwait under-22s was abandoned after one of Ireland’s substitutes was allegedly the target of racist abuse.

A FIFA spokesperson said: “FIFA is awaiting the official reports before deciding on next steps.

“FIFA has a zero-tolerance policy against any forms of discrimination as stressed last week by the FIFA president.”

Racism has leapt up FIFA’s agenda in recent months, with Real Madrid forward Vinicius Jr the subject of repeated abuse from fans in Spain’s La Liga.

Last week, FIFA president Gianni Infantino met the Brazilian superstar and said matches should stop if there was racism.

“It’s very important not just to talk about racism and discrimination, but to take action,” Infantino said.

“There is no football if there is racism so let’s stop the games.”

Pragnell said he wasn’t sure if players were aware of Infantino’s suggestion of stopping games, and NZ Football would “proactively” take it up with the global body.

“It’s a significant incident, both in terms of the racial abuse and the impact that had on our team,” he said.

New Zealand led the match through Marko Stamenic’s 17th-minute strike.

Commentator and former All Whites goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley said Boxall, the captain of MLS side Minnesota United, was “a man of huge integrity, of tolerance and patience”.

“To garnish this reaction from him really did raise my eyebrows. To hear the details of the allegations that are being made by this All Whites team, I can completely understand why this action has been taken,” he said.

Boxall is of Kiwi and Samoan heritage.

Qatar’s coach Quieroz closed ranks around his team shortly after the abandonment, saying it was “something that nobody can understand”.

“Apparently two players on the pitch they exchanged words … the New Zealand players, they decided to support his teammate as it is obvious all our team decided to support our player,” he said.

“I think this case will be under the observation of FIFA for sure.”

Early Wednesday AEST the Qatar FA claimed Abdurisag was the player abused. saying there was an exchange of words “in the heat of the moment” where he was the victim of racial slurs.

In any case, the QFA takes the allegations incredibly seriously and stands against racism in all its forms,” QFA added in a statement. 

The NZ government and Kiwi players union (NZPFA) also gave their support.