Paris (AFP) – Players from Paris Saint-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir took a knee Wednesday before restarting their Champions League match suspended 24 hours earlier when the teams walked off the pitch in an unprecedented protest at an allegedly racist comment by a match official.

The teams gathered around the centre circle and were joined by the match officials as they kneeled in support of the Black Lives Matter cause.

Before that they sported t-shirts with the slogan “No To Racism” while warming up at the Parc des Princes, where large banners in the empty stands carried the same message.

The game restarted where it stopped on Tuesday, in the 14th minute, when a touchline argument erupted over accusations the Romanian fourth official, Sebastian Coltescu, had described Basaksehir’s Cameroonian assistant coach Pierre Webo as “black”, or “negru” in Romanian.

Coltescu and the other Romanian match officials were replaced for the restart by a new refereeing team headed by the Netherlands’ Danny Makkelie.

Already qualified for the last 16 thanks to Manchester United’s defeat to RB Leipzig in Germany on Tuesday, PSG still needed to win the restarted game to secure top spot in their group and raced into a 3-0 lead by half-time with Neymar scoring twice and Kylian Mbappe scoring a penalty.

Mbappe had played a prominent role in Tuesday’s heated discussion on the touchline, tweeting “Say no to racism”. 

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is understood to be close to Basaksehir’s owners, got involved, tweeting that he “strongly condemns the racist remarks”, while France’s sports minister Roxana Maracineanu, who was born in Romania, praised the players’ “historic decision”.

Basaksehir midfielder Giuliano said the official’s comment was “disgraceful”.

“(The comment) was very clear, many people heard, including our coach. It was disgraceful,” he told Brazilian media.

“As a team and a group, we decided to protest because that is unacceptable. Racism has to end.”

The row flared after Webo was shown a red card. 

Television microphones in the empty stadium — matches are taking place without spectators because of Covid-19 restrictions — picked up a furious Webo repeatedly asking why a racist term had been used to describe him.

In the exchange in question between the all-Romanian officiating team, Coltescu said: “The black one over there. This is not possible. Go and identify him. That guy, the black one.”

Basaksehir’s Senegalese forward Demba Ba, among the substitutes for the away side, could be heard remonstrating with the official in English, saying: “When you mention a white guy, you never say ‘this white guy’, you just say ‘this guy’, so why when you mention a black guy do you say ‘this black guy?'”

– ‘No to racism’ –

European football’s governing body UEFA promised a “thorough investigation” and suspended the red card shown to Webo while it probes the matter.

The French government’s spokesman Gabriel Attal condemned all racism in sport and commended the “solidarity” shown by both teams.

Rio Ferdinand, the former Manchester United and England defender and now a TV pundit, said on BT Sport in the UK: “I think we are at a disturbing tipping point. Not a week goes by without an incident involving race.

“The players walking off is a step in the right direction, but it can’t just be left to them.”

Ferdinand’s brother Anton was involved in a high-profile incident in 2012 when Chelsea player John Terry was accused of racially abusing him during a match in England.

Many athletes have taken a strong stand against racism since Black Lives Matter protests flared around the world over the death of George Floyd during his arrest in Minneapolis in May.

The Turkish champions had refused to restart the game on Tuesday as long as fourth official Coltescu was still involved.

“The fourth official used the word ‘negro’ in front of everybody,” Basaksehir president Goksel Gumusdag told Turkish television channel TRT Spor.

Basaksehir responded to the incidents by tweeting “NO TO RACISM #Respect”, along with a photo of UEFA’s anti-racism logo.

The message was retweeted by PSG.

“All forms of racism go against the values held by Paris Saint-Germain, the club’s chairman, staff and players,” the French champions said.