UEFA charges Rangers over alleged sectarian songs
NYON, Switzerland (AP) - Scottish champion Rangers said Thursday they will "vigorously'' defend themselves against a UEFA charge that fans chanted sectarian songs at a Europa League match.
UEFA's disciplinary panel will decide on April 28 if Rangers breached discrimination rules which forbid "insult(ing) the human dignity of a person or group of persons'' on religious grounds.
If found guilty, Rangers face being ordered to play a European competition match in an empty stadium and paying a minimum fine of $28,500.
Rangers chief executive Martin Bain said it was "utterly dismayed'' by the case after working to eliminate a reputation for sectarian views among its traditionally Protestant support in Glasgow. City rival Celtic is traditionally followed by the Catholic community.
"Our position regarding sectarian and offensive singing has been made clear time and again - we condemn it and those who indulge in it only damage the interests of the club,'' Bain said in a statement on Rangers' website. "We are not saying there is not a problem, but we are saying that for many years now we have made strenuous attempts to address it.''
UEFA has promised a crackdown on discrimination and violence inside stadiums.
Last month, UEFA President Michel Platini said at its congress of 53 nations in Paris that "there is no place in football for those who transform ... pride into sectarianism.''
Platini's comments came after the Rangers incident during a last-16 match at PSV Eindhoven on March 10. The match was scoreless and Rangers was eliminated after losing the return leg 1-0.
UEFA acted after receiving reports from Swedish referee Martin Hansson and official match delegate Geir Thorsteinsson, the president of Iceland's football association.
Bain said it was "absurd'' to believe only Rangers fans chanted offensive songs at matches.
"That is patently not the case and we are left to conclude that there is a disproportionate focus on Rangers,'' he said. "It has also become clear there are people who have been determined to undermine our club at any cost and have constantly lobbied UEFA and other organizations to take action against Rangers.''
UEFA previously praised his club for its efforts to control sectarianism, including at previous disciplinary hearings, Bain said.