A Champions League soccer match between Paris St.-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir was suspended on Tuesday after both teams accused a referee of directing a racial fraud against a black assistant coach.
The game in Paris – an integral part of the flagship competition of European football – was halted after just 14 minutes when Sebastian Coltescu, the fourth Romanian official, called referee Ovidiu Hategan to the sidelines. It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted the request.
As Hategan approached the team benches, Coltescu appeared to be demanding that Pierre Webó, the former Cameroonian international who now works as the Turkish team’s assistant manager, be excluded from the game.
Reports in Romania and audio recordings of the incident indicated that Coltescu Hategan announced that a member of the Basaksehir coaching staff – Webó – should be fired and identified him as “that black man”.
As Hategan was preparing to pull a red card out of his pocket, Webó approached the referee and accused Coltescu of singling him out with a racist nickname.
“Why did he say negro?” Webó yelled repeatedly at Coltescu as he was sent away from the field. “Why did you say negro?”
Basaksehir’s players immediately protested against Hategan, and PSG stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, who had also suffered racial abuse in the past, joined the discussion. Demba Ba, Basaksehir’s veteran Senegalese striker, then approached Coltescu and asked him, “Why, when you mention a black man, do you have to say, ‘That black man’?”
“You wouldn’t say ‘those whites’,” Ba said, pointing a finger. “You would say ‘these people’.”
Coltescu’s role as fourth official includes overseeing the coaching areas and benches, as well as handling player changes. When Ba protested just inches from his face, he – or another member of the all-Romanian gaming officers unit – seemed to be defending the choice of words as a matter of language, not intention.
After a few minutes of discussion, the Basaksehir players decided to leave the field and they were quickly followed by their PSG colleagues. As he left the field, Hategan could be overheard on the microphones of the television broadcast, insisting that the protocol for handling the problem – and whether the game would restart – was “not up to me”.
UEFA, the European football association and organizer of the competition, initially planned to resume the game after a delay of 45 minutes at 10 p.m. local time. Coltescu was replaced by the official who acted as the on-site video assistant referee.
PSG players were reported to be ready to continue playing – and even return to the tunnel to get onto the pitch – but Basaksehir confirmed on Twitter that his players had declined, “because of the fourth official’s racism, Sebastian Coltescu, against our assistant coach Pierre Webó. “
PSG also publicly confirmed that “racist remarks by the fourth official” had caused the game to be suspended.
Two hours after the players left the field, UEFA said in a statement that the teams had agreed to play the final 76 minutes of Wednesday’s game after agreeing to the unusual condition of assigning the entire team of match officers replace. It also said it would review the incident that resulted in the game being stopped.
“A thorough investigation into the incident will be launched immediately,” said a UEFA statement.
PSG will step in, knowing their spot will be secure in the knockout rounds of the tournament after Manchester United’s loss to RB Leipzig on Tuesday night sealed the Premier League club’s exit. Basaksehir had already been eliminated from the competition.