Examining UEFA’s disciplinary regulations in light of the recent allegations of racism in the European Under-21 Championship play-off in Serbia

In a statement on their website last night UEFA confirmed it has opened disciplinary proceedings against both the Football Association of Serbia (FSS) and England’s Football Association (FA) following a number of incidents during and after England’s 1-0 win over Serbia in the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-off second leg at the Mladost stadium in Krusevac on Tuesday 16 October 2012.

Regarding alleged racist chanting, UEFA will instigate proceedings against the FSS over the misconduct of their supporters during and at the end of the match. Proceedings will also be instigated against the FSS for the improper conduct of the Serbia players at the end of the game. What was perhaps most surprising from their statement was that UEFA stated they will also commence proceedings against the FA for the improper conduct of the England players at the end of the match. These cases will be discussed on the occasion of the next ordinary hearing of the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body on 22 November 2012.[1]

The Serbian FA has denied any forms of racism towards the England Under-21 team last night and said defender Danny Rose behaved in an “inappropriate, unsportsmanlike and vulgar manner” towards their fans. In a statement[2] on its website, the Serbian FA said:

“(The) FA of Serbia absolutely refuses (sic) and denies that there were any occurrences of racism before and during the match at the stadium in Krusevac. Making connection between the seen incident – a fight between members of the two teams – and racism has absolutely no ground and we consider it to be a total malevolence. Unfortunately, after the fourth minute of the additional time and the victory goal scored by the guest team, unpleasant scenes were seen on the pitch. And while most of the English team players celebrated the score, their player number three, Danny Rose, behaved in inappropriate, unsportsmanlike and vulgar manner towards the supporters on the stands at the stadium in Krusevac, and for that he was shown a red card.”

Bearing in mind the broadcast images from ESPN and the amateur fan footage, that has recently surfaced, it is hard to conceive how the FSS hope to sweep this matter under the carpet and deny the allegations against them. Possibly they feel they have no choice due supposedly being on their final warning from UEFA regarding their previous conduct. In June 2007 the FFS were fined £16,500 for “the racist chanting of supporters and the improper conduct of their players”. Surely if they are found guilty again of the same offence UEFA would have no choice but to serve them with a lengthy ban?

But then again UEFA has been criticised in the past for failing to punish racist behaviour severely enough while being seen to come down more heavily on other issues:[3]

In October 2002 The Slovakian football federation were fined £18,000 for racism following abuse directed towards Ashley Cole and Emile Heskey by Slovakia fans during a Euro 2004 qualifier.

In September 2003 Macedonia’s federation were fined £16,500 for racism towards Ashley Cole, Emile Heskey and Sol Campbell by Macedonia fans during their qualifier in Skopje.

June 2008 saw the Crotian federation fined £10,000 for racism when their fans were found guilty of racist behaviour in their Euro 2008 quarter-final tie with Turkey. The Croatian fans were found guilty of “displaying a racist banner and showing racist conduct”.

September 2011, and the Bulgarian FA were fined £34,230 for racism when a minority of home fans directed monkey chants at Ashley Young, Ashley Cole and Theo Walcott during the second half of the Euro 2012 qualifier in Sofia.

In April 2012 Porto were eventually fined £16,700 for racism after Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli was subjected to monkey chants by the Portuguese side’s fans during a Europa League match in February.

June 2012 saw Russia and Spain handed a combined £40,335 fine for racism when Uefa’s disciplinary panel found both countries guilty of “improper conduct of its fans”. Russia was fined £24,203 and Spain £16,137 respectively. Russian fans made monkey noises at the Czech Republic full-back Theodor Gebre Selassie during Euro 2012 while Spain fans targeted abuse at Italy forward Balotelli.

When UEFA’s disciplinary decisions are compared to punishments handed down in other matters it is quite easy to reach the conclusion that UEFA does not really have the constitution to deal with racism in football.

Who could forget Didier Drogba’s foul mouthed rant in June 2009 leading to Chelsea being fined £85,000 for failure to control players and fans after Chelsea’s controversial Champions League elimination to Barcelona at the semi-final stage. Does this mean swearing on TV, even after the watershed, is considered worse than monkey chants?

April 2011 and Rangers were fined £35,652 for sectarianism and their fans were also banned from their next European away game after singing sectarian songs in their Europa League match against PSV Eindhoven.

What Arsenal fan was not shaking their head when in March 2012 Arsenal were fined £33,000 because Arsene Wenger was found to have confronted the match referee at the end of the tie with AC Milan. Mr. Wenger was also given a three-match suspension which he is still serving.

April 2012 saw Manchester City fined £24,740 for delaying the second half of their Europa League last 16 fixture against Sporting Lisbon. Uefa’s disciplinary committee believed that tardiness was worth fining City £8,000 more than Porto were fined when their fans were themselves found guilty of making monkey noises towards Mario Balotelli earlier in the Europa campaign.

Arguably sometimes UEFA seem somewhat consistent. In June 2012 Russia were fined £24,300 by UEFA for fans “setting off and throwing of fireworks…displaying of illicit banners and the invasion of the pitch by a supporter” during the UEFA Euro 2012 Group A match against Poland in Warsaw.

Moreover, the Russian federation were also fined £96,761 after Russian fans clashed with police and officials during and after their Euro 2012 opener against the Czech Republic.

Perhaps the most infamous punishment dished out by UEFA was also during Euro 2012 when they decided that Nicklas Bendtner should be fined £80,000 for unveiling his underwear during a goal celebration that displayed “unauthorised sponsorship”. The big Dane was also handed a one-match ban for showing off his delicates. This incident suggests that UEFA care more about protecting their sponsors than in trying to ensure that fans respect the game and those that play it.

So are UEFA really not interested in kicking racism out of football, or is their disciplinary committee hamstrung by the current regulations?[4]

Under Article 5[5] member associations and clubs, as well as their players, officials and members, shall conduct themselves according to the principles of loyalty, integrity and sportsmanship. Furthermore, all persons bound by UEFA’s rules and regulations must refrain from any behaviour that damages or could damage the integrity of matches and competitions organised by UEFA and they must cooperate fully with UEFA at all times in its efforts to combat such behaviour. Hopefully the FSS will read Article 5 prior to the hearing of the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body on 22 November 2012.

Moving on through the regulations and we see that Article 11 ‘Other offences’[6] states that disciplinary measures may be taken against member associations or clubs if a team conducts itself improperly, for example if individual disciplinary sanctions have been imposed by the referee on at least five players during the same match.

The same disciplinary measures may be taken against member associations or clubs in case of inappropriate behaviour on the part of their supporters, including; the invasion or attempted invasion of the field of play; the throwing of objects; the lighting of fireworks; or the use of gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, in particular if it is of a political, offensive or provocative nature.

Moreover, under Article 11bis ‘Discrimination and similar conduct’, anyone who insults the human dignity of a person or group of persons by whatever means, including on grounds of colour, race, religion or ethnic origin, shall incur a suspension for five matches or for a specified period. If a member association or club or any of their officials is found guilty of such conduct, depending on the circumstances this suspension could be replaced by a fine.

So considering how explicit the regulations are on condemning racist behaviour, why are the punishments so low? Well continuing on with Article 11bis[7] shows that if one or more of a member association or club’s supporters engage in the behaviour described in paragraph 1, the member association or club responsible shall be fined €20,000.

If particular circumstances so require, however, the competent disciplinary body may impose additional sanctions on the member association or club responsible, such as the playing of one or more matches behind closed doors, a stadium closure, a match forfeit, the deduction of points or disqualification from the competition.

We are therefore not dealing with antiquated legislation that is in need of updating. Why the punishment ceiling is so low is really anyone’s guess and I do not find it surprising that so many thoughts and conspiracy theories continue to circulate about UEFA and racism. Especially when you consider that the regulations in place are only from 2011. Experts in Non-Governmental Organisations claim that the penalties are rarely imposed, for a variety of reasons including fears of re-election on the part of sports officials and a lack of understanding of the significance of hate crimes.

Perhaps then if we believe that UEFA is fundamentally broken when it comes to enforcement maybe it us up to a higher power to take the lead? FIFA President Sepp Blatter has spoken out about racism in football following Tuesday’s match. While he did not specifically mention the allegations in the current England/Serbia row he did tweet and call for discrimination to be “eradicated”. He tweeted: “Saddened every time I hear about racist incidents in football.” And “We must keep fighting to eradicate discrimination from our sport. Kick racism out of football.”[8]

So what are FIFA doing to eradicate it? To be honest historically there has not been much done and the most recent disciplinary code does not seem to help much either. FIFA states that it recognises its responsibility to lead the way in abolishing all forms of discrimination in football. Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes states:

“Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”[9]

At a FIFA Executive Committee meeting in 2006, the disciplinary code was significantly strengthened. The changes shift more responsibility to sports associations for the behaviour of their fans, officials and athletes. Penalties were significantly enhanced, both in terms of rankings of clubs and the imposition of financial penalties.[10]

In October 2002, UEFA endorsed a ten point anti-racism action plan drafted by the grassroots organisation Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE). In July 2003, UEFA issued a handbook on dealing with racism and discrimination, including education and awareness campaigns, action programs to focus attention on the issue, information on dealing with right-wing extremist fans, methods of improving cooperation with police and local authorities, and suggestions on ways to be more inclusive of ethnic minorities.

In March 2006 the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning racism at football matches. It called on competition organizers to impose sanctions on associations and clubs whose supporters or players commit serious racist offences. The resolution urged the UEFA to exclude clubs from competition in the case of serious offences.

Under Article 58 ‘Discrimination’ of the most recent FIFA Disciplinary Code states that where supporters of a team offends the dignity of a person or group of persons through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigratory words or actions concerning race, colour, language, religion or origin at a match, a fine of at least CHF 30,000[11] shall be imposed on the association or club concerned regardless of the question of culpable conduct or culpable oversight. Serious offences may be punished with additional sanctions, in particular an order to play a match behind closed doors, the forfeit of a match, a points deduction or disqualification from the competition.[12]

By analysing the various regulations, disciplinary codes, statements and plans produced by both FIFA and UEFA it is possible to surmise that the governing bodies are attempting to spend their time combating racism and discrimination through awareness campaigns and promoting education rather than punishment. As someone who has studied law for almost a decade now I can see similarities to criminal justice reforms of the past that prioritised rehabilitation and re-education over punishment, and as someone who is generally liberal leaning I can applaud UEFA and FIFA’s collective response to the war on discrimination in that particular regard. However, and somewhat ironically, if the governing bodies enforced higher financial penalties against those national football federations that seem resistant or impotent in challenging their own fans bigotry, they would in fact generate far more revenue that they could then reinvest in the same educational programmes. Also heavier punishments would, no doubt, lead to much more of a deterrent to racist abuse from fans of other Associations.

Mr Platini and UEFA’s disciplinary panel face an interesting few weeks. Their decision could be seen as an acid test as to how far UEFA are truly willing to go in the ongoing war against arguably the most abhorrent issue facing our modern society, not to mention trying to ensure it doesn’t sustain a further dent to its credibility.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the writer and this article does not constitute legal advice.

[5] UEFA Disciplinary Regulations DR Edition 2011, page 2

[6] UEFA Disciplinary Regulations DR Edition 2011, page 5

[7] UEFA Disciplinary Regulations DR Edition 2011, page 6

[10] American Jewish Communitee – Anti Semitism and Racism in European Soccer, page 4

[11] The current exchange rate at the time of writing is 1 Swiss franc (CHF) = 0.6712 British pounds Sterling (£)