Champions League finals referee apologizes for ties to far-right Polish leader

Szymon Marciniak allowed to officiate marquee match next week after saying he didn’t know event that he addressed was linked to ‘extreme-right movement’

Referee Szymon Marciniak officiates at the Europa League round of 16 second leg soccer match between Wolves and Olympiakos at Molineux Stadium in Wolverhampton, England, August 6, 2020. (AP/Rui Vieira)
Referee Szymon Marciniak officiates at the Europa League round of 16 second leg soccer match between Wolves and Olympiakos at Molineux Stadium in Wolverhampton, England, August 6, 2020. (AP/Rui Vieira)

GENEVA (AP) — Polish soccer referee Szymon Marciniak apologized Friday for speaking at a business event tied to a far-right politician and was confirmed by UEFA to officiate next week’s Champions League final.

Marciniak’s appointment for the game between Manchester City and Inter Milan on June 10, months after he refereed the World Cup final in Qatar, was at risk Thursday after a Warsaw-based anti-racism group alerted UEFA to his conference appearance this week.

UEFA said Friday it accepted Marciniak’s “profound apologies and clarification” and that anti-racism group Never Again had also then asked for the referee to be retained.

“I want to express my deepest apologies for my involvement and any distress or harm it may have caused,” Marciniak wrote in a statement published by UEFA, adding he was “gravely misled and completely unaware” of the links to Slawomir Mentzen, a leader of the far-right Confederation party.

“I had no knowledge that (the conference) was associated a Polish extreme-right movement. Had I been aware of this fact, I would have categorically declined the invitation,” the referee wrote. “I am committed to learning from this experience and ensuring that such lapses in judgment do not occur in the future.”

UEFA noted Never Again’s acceptance of the Marciniak apology and by “firmly asserting that removing him would undermine the promotion of anti-discrimination.”

“Based on the information provided, UEFA confirms that Mr. Marciniak will fulfill his role as the referee for the 2023 UEFA Champions League final,” the European soccer body said.

Marciniak also had been supported by Poland’s government on Friday as UEFA considered removing him from next week’s match in Istanbul. Polish media reported that Marciniak had been dropped by UEFA but efforts were being made to restore him.

Marciniak wrote on his Instagram account late Thursday that he “never supported nor legitimized any political party, organization or individual politician.”

However, neither the Instagram post nor an earlier statement to Never Again offered an apology or acknowledged the possibility of an error of judgment.

Polish sports minister Kamil Bortniczuk defended Marciniak earlier Friday. He wrote in a letter to UEFA circulated by national media that the referee’s speech at an event this week had “nothing to do with politics.”

It was a “harmful manipulation,” the sports minister wrote, to link the referee to the politics of Mentzen.

The 42-year-old Marciniak, widely seen as soccer’s top referee, spoke this week at a business and networking event in Poland. The organizers of the event included Mentzen, who used social media to praise Marciniak as the standout speaker.

UEFA said in a statement Thursday “the whole football community abhor the ‘values’ that are promoted by the (political) group in question and takes these allegations very seriously.”

In a concerted effort Friday in Poland, Bortniczuk wrote to UEFA that Marciniak gave a 45-minute speech of a “strictly business, motivational, and inspirational character,” and did not have contact with Mentzen.

Marciniak also refereed for FIFA at the 2018 World Cup and for UEFA at the 2016 European Championship, as well as in club competition games over several seasons. He missed Euro 2020 while recovering from a heart issue after a COVID-19 infection.

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