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UEFA back Champions League final ref after far-right furore

June 2, 2023

Polish referee Szymon Marciniak will take charge of the Champions League final despite attending an event organised by a far-right politician. Marciniak disassociated himself "from any kind of radical or racist views."

Szymon Marciniak raises his arm during the World Cup final
Szymon Marciniak was the referee during the 2022 World Cup final, won by ArgentinaImage: Frank Hoermann/Sven Simon/IMAGO

Why the controversy?

Szymon Marciniak, is set to referee the Champions League final between Manchester City and Inter on June 10, despite having drawn criticism for making a speech at an event organised by the Confederation. It appears that Marciniak made a lengthy apology to UEFA, European football's governing body.

"I was gravely misled and completely unaware of the true nature and affiliations of the event in question," Marciniak said in a statement released on Friday. "I had no knowledge that it was associated with a Polish extreme-right movement. Had I been aware of this fact, I would have categorically declined the invitation."

There was nothing overtly political in the speech given by Polish official, who also refereed December's World Cup final, and it was concerned largely with his path to the top of the refereeing tree. But the nature of the "networking event" had proven controversial and provoked the apology.

Who are the Confederation?

The reason for the initial controversy is that the event was hosted by the Confederation Liberation and Independence party (commonly known as Confederation) and their leader Slawomir Mentzen. The party emerged in 2018 and won 11 seats in the Polish parliament the following year. 

Their politics are considered to be on the extreme right, and has been accused of being xenophobic, anti-semetic, anti-feminist and spreading misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. At one point the party slogan was: "We stand against Jews, gays, abortion, taxation and the European Union."

What's been said?

Marciniak quickly moved to distance himself from any association with Confederation politics after reports emerged on Thursday. "Regarding today's media coverage I declare that I have never supported nor legitimized any political party, organization or individual politician,” he wrote on Instagram on Thursday evening. "I do, strongly and clearly, dissociate myself from any kind of radical, racist, or antisemite views, statements or actions."

Earlier that day, UEFA had said they were investigating the matter before concluding on Friday that Marciniak had sufficiently addressed his part in the event. "UEFA has diligently investigated the allegations surrounding Szymon Marciniak's participation in an event organised in Katowice on 29 May 2023," the statement read. "These allegations are taken with utmost seriousness by UEFA and the entire football community as we unequivocally reject the values promoted by a group linked to this conference. Yesterday, we committed to gathering all relevant information and sought urgent clarification on this matter."

"After conducting a thorough review, we have received a statement from Mr. Marciniak expressing his deepest apologies and providing a clarification regarding his involvement in the event. We believe it is crucial to share his statement to address the concerns and ensure transparency."

It is believed that Polish anti-racism group, Never Again, who initially declared thesmselves "shocked and appalled by Marciniak's public association with Mentzen and his brand of toxic far-right politics," backed the UEFA decision after Marciniak's explanation.

What's next?

For Marciniak it is Istanbul, and European club football's biggest game. But with football on high alert after the racist abuse of Vinicius Jnr in Spain, all eyes will be on the man in the middle. He insists he is prepared.

"I was among the first referees in the world, and certainly the first in my country, to apply the "three-step procedure" in response to a serious discriminatory incident during a match in Poland," his statement continued. "Moving forward, I pledge to be more vigilant in scrutinising the events and organisations with which I associate myself."

Is he the only referee in the spotlight at the moment?

Though very different in nature, the furore surrounding Marciniak came on the same day that the referee for the final of UEFA's second-ranked competition, Anthony Taylor, was attacked and abused with his family at Budapest Airport. That came after Roma coach Jose Mourinho swore at the English official in the car park after his team lost the Europa League final to Sevilla on Wednesday night.

UEFA are also weighing up whether to charge Mourinho for his actions. But the Portuguese coach is not alone. Liverpool's German coach Jürgen Klopp was recently handed a two match touchline ban and a hefty fine for questioning the integrity of a referee while Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham has also previously found himself in hot water for a similar offence.

Recent reports in England and Germany have found that the scale and frequency of referee abuse is on the rise, with physical and verbal attacks more commonplace now than ever.

Edited by: James Thorogood