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Racism probe

Paul Ifill (right)

WELLINGTON – Investigations into racist taunts directed at former Barbados international footballer Paul Ifill could take a different direction in Australia.

Wellington Phoenix, for whom Ifill plays, is now considering pressing criminal charges after Ifill was allegedly vilified by a fan at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide on Sunday.

In what is looming as a landmark case for South Australian sport, the probe into the incident suggests there could be grounds for criminal prosecution under South Australia Legislation’s 1996 Racial Vilification Act.

Ifill, who has 10 Barbados caps, plays in the mid-field for the New Zealand-based club which lost 3-1 to Adelaide United during the incident. The Barbadian international vented his anger on Twitter after the clash, but it’s understood the racial abuse also deeply offended Wellington’s Solomon Islander Benjamin Totori, another black player.

Totori, one of the mainstays of the Solomon Islands national side, was one of the players on the Phoenix bench who heard the hateful words shouted by the fan.

It’s understood the Phoenix management and players were first disbelieving, and then appalled by the continued comments launched by the spectator, who was stationed near the team’s dug-out.

The abuse was directed solely at Ifill, but offended Totori and the other players on the Phoenix’s bench. Fellow substitutes Alex Smith and Griffin McMaster joined Ifill in registering their disgust on Twitter soon after Adelaide’s win.

Ifill missed the “two or three” bursts of abuse during the first spell. But he was made aware of them at halftime by a Phoenix representative, who also expressed his displeasure to Adelaide officials. They immediately made sure the security presence near the Phoenix dug-out was increased and a security guard was dispatched into the stands, adjacent to where the alleged abuser was sitting.

Adelaide United striker Bruce Djite – a union executive for Professional Footballers Australia – was outraged after hearing Ifill was a target of racial abuse. The striker said the PFA would have a teleconference today on the incident.

“It’s (racism) something I’ll definitely be raising,” Djite said.

“The FFA and the club have done quite a good job handling it and personally I’m sure the rest of society wants the greatest punishment possible to be handed down to this person because it’s something that can’t be tolerated.”

It’s understood Football Federation Australia has moved considerably closer to identifying one offender who was sitting in the reserved season-ticket holders’ section of the Western Stand.

The FFA, South Australian police, Adelaide United, stadium officials, contracted security and undercover security were working together after Wellington officials reported the derogatory songs and animal sounds that were hurled at Ifill.

Authorities have been presented video of the alleged members of the small group after Wellington officials made their complaint. The case could follow the same path as Chelsea’s John Terry who last year faced criminal charges in England after he was prosecuted over alleged racist remarks made towards Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.

Last year Liverpool’s Luis Suarez was banned †for eight matches and fined 40,000 after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.

The PFA yesterday issued a statement declaring: “The PFA is in discussions with the players and FFA to ensure that football’s multicultural character is celebrated and backed by strong action against offenders.”

The Dominion Post in New Zealand reported today that at least one security guard heard the fan in action and would be able to identify him.

Ifill returned to New Zealand yesterday.††

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