Chelsea will issue severe sanctions if it is proved some of their fans racially abused Raheem Sterling during Saturday’s home game against Manchester City.
The London club, who have suspended four fans while investigations into alleged racist abuse towards Sterling are continuing, have also said they will support any criminal prosecutions.
Television footage showed a group of home supporters screaming abuse – alleged to be racist in nature – at Sterling as he retrieved the ball from behind the goal during Saturday’s match.
A statement published on Chelsea’s official website read: “Chelsea Football Club has suspended four people from attending Chelsea matches pending further investigations into allegations regarding the behaviour of supporters towards Raheem Sterling during our match against Manchester City.
“Our investigations into this matter are ongoing. We are fully supporting the police investigation and any information we gather will be passed on to them.
“Chelsea Football Club finds all forms of discriminatory behaviour abhorrent and if there is evidence of ticket holders taking part in any racist behaviour, the club will issue severe sanctions, including bans. We will also fully support any criminal prosecutions.”
Manchester City issued a reactive statement welcoming Chelsea’s announcement and confirmed they and Sterling were helping with police inquiries.
“Manchester City FC welcomes Chelsea FC’s decision to issue suspensions to the individuals who verbally abused Raheem Sterling during the match at Stamford Bridge on Saturday,” City’s statement read.
“The club and Raheem are fully engaged with Chelsea FC and the investigating authorities as they continue to examine the events in question.
“Manchester City and Raheem are committed to working with all relevant parties and organisations to support the objective of eradicating racism from the game.”
The Professional Footballers’ Association said on Monday that it stood “shoulder to shoulder” with Sterling and believes he is singled out for negative media coverage.
Sterling responded to the incident on social media by accusing the British press of helping to “fuel racism” by their portrayal of young, black footballers.
The PFA has been in contact with the England international to offer support and praised the restraint he showed at Stamford Bridge.
“Raheem has made a stand by speaking out and we stand shoulder to shoulder with him against the discrimination of which he speaks,” said Simone Pound, the PFA’s head of equality and diversity, in a statement.
“We all have a part to play in tackling racism and discrimination and certain sectors of the media must be held to account.”
The statement added: “We have been aware for a few months of the targeting Raheem faces in the press, it is evident that he is often singled out and treated more harshly than his colleagues.
“As such, these stories are fuelling racism within the game, as reports of racist abuse continue to rise.”
The Metropolitan Police are also investigating the incident, while the Football Association has said it will work with the clubs and other authorities to ensure the matter is dealt with appropriately.
TV footage of the incident was widely shared on social media and quickly condemned by former footballers, including Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand and Ian Wright, as well as campaign group Kick it Out.
In his social media response to the abuse, Sterling referred to separate headlines about City team-mates Tosin Adarabioyo and Phil Foden buying houses.
While the headline about Adarabioyo, who is black, focused on how he spent £2.25million on a property without making a Premier League start, midfielder Foden was described as having “set up a future”.