NYON, Switzerland (AP) — Serbia has survived the threat of expulsion from the 2015 European Under-21 Championship by UEFA over racist abuse directed by fans at England players.
UEFA's appeals panel declined the option Friday, instead ordering Serbia to play two U21 qualifiers in an empty stadium. The judgment is likely to fuel debate on how football authorities deal with discrimination in stadiums.
In a separate ruling Friday, UEFA cleared Steven Caulker to play for England at the 2013 U21 Euro tournament in Israel by lifting his two-match ban. The Tottenham defender was involved in clashes between Serbia and England players and coaches after the final whistle of a volatile playoff in Krusevac last October.
"Steven Caulker is issued with a warning in respect of his future conduct and the player undertakes to perform one full day of community football service," UEFA said in a statement. However, England midfielder Thomas Ince had his one-match ban upheld. He will miss a June 5 match against Italy in Tel Aviv, if selected for the tournament.
Caulker and Ince, who plays for second-tier Blackpool, both addressed the appeal panel which sat in session for seven hours at UEFA headquarters. "Both players should be proud of the way they represented themselves," England U21 coach Stuart Pearce, who also attended, said in a statement published by the English Football Association. "We respect UEFA's decision and we will now move on and focus on the Finals tournament."
UEFA had sought tougher sanctions when it requested a complete review of widespread sanctions arising from a match marred by monkey chants aimed at England players. The English FA also challenged its players' bans, arguing they were provoked amid a hostile atmosphere that sparked a post-match melee.
The appeals body weighed a report from UEFA inspectors suggesting it could banish Serbia from the next U21 competition, and increase a fine of €80,000 ($107,000). Panel members chose to uphold the fine, though doubled a one-match stadium closure imposed in December at a UEFA disciplinary hearing.
Then, Serbia Football Association general secretary Zoran Lakovic had acknowledged: "We are under special UEFA scrutiny and even the smallest next mistake could lead to rigorous punishment." Lakovic declined to comment on leaving UEFA.
Serbia's hooligan fans have been a persistent concern for European football's governing body. Two years ago, UEFA President Michel Platini warned then-state President Boris Tadic in Belgrade that national and club teams faced suspension from UEFA competitions if it did not act to curb the problem.
England went to provincial Krusevac holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg and the team was targeted by fans throwing coins and objects during the game. The post-match brawl began after England defender Danny Rose complained of monkey chants whenever he touched the ball. He was sent off after the final whistle for after kicking a ball into the stands, gesturing to the crowd as he walked off the pitch.
Four Serbia players and two coaches also received UEFA suspensions in December, and midfielder Nikola Ninkovic had his two-match ban increased to three on Friday. The Serbia U21 team will play behind closed doors in its next two qualifiers in a 2015 group that includes Italy, Belgium, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.
Earlier Friday, Platini attended a meeting of FIFA's Strategic Committee which pledged to introduce stricter punishments for discrimination at matches. "The aim is to present to the FIFA Congress in Mauritius (on May 31) concrete actions, as well as strong sanctions, which will really have an impact," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in a statement.