Discrimination in Football: Its most famous cases, the evolution of its regulations, and its remedies by Ralph Charbel

According to Oxford dictionary, discrimination is “The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.”

Merriam – Webster dictionary defines racism as follows “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”

Discrimination is always a hot topic in football. Despite all the campaigns against discrimination, this main problem persists.

What are the most famous racism cases that happened in football?  How were they sanctioned?  What are the regulations concerning discrimination on international and continental level? How did they evolve?  How some countries fight against discrimination? What are the possible remedies to reduce it in the future?

In this article, I will answer all these questions.

Suarez-Evra case: The most famous and debatable racial discrimination case between two players in the last decade. In a premier league clash between Manchester United and Liverpool on the 15th of October 2011, Luis Suarez was accused of the use of racist words towards Manchester United left back Patrice Evra. Suarez reportedly called Evra “Negro”. On December 20, the verdict of the English FA was in: Suarez was to be fined £40,000 and suspended for eight matches. On December 31, the English FA Regulatory Commission then issued its full 115-page report, the headline conclusion of which was that the Liverpool player had “damaged the image of English football around the world”. It suggested that while it had found Evra a credible witness, Suarez’s evidence was unreliable and inconsistent. It found that while Suarez had admitted he had used the term “negro”, his insistence that the term was meant to be friendly and conciliatory was reckoned “unsustainable and simply incredible given that the players were engaged in an acrimonious argument”.

Dani Alves Case: A banana was thrown from a fan of Villarreal on FC Barcelona right back Dani Alves during a game in La Liga in the 2013 / 2014 season. Dani’s reaction was priceless. He grabbed the banana and ate it before taking a corner for his team. The Disciplinary Committee of the Spanish football Association sanctioned Villarreal by fining the “Yellow Submarine” the amount of 12.000 Euros.

Kalidou Koulibaly Case: During a serie A game between Napoli and Inter on the 26th of December 2018, Napoli Center Back Kalidou Koulibaly was the victim of racist chants of Inter Fans. Serie A’s Disciplinary Tribunal sanctioned Inter after that incident by playing behind closed doors in its next two home fixtures.

Moise Kean Case: On the other hand, a case was considered as a scandal, it was the case of Moise Kean, Juventus player then, during a SERIE A game against Cagliari in the 2018 / 2019 season. Racist chants were heard from the stands targeting the young forward. However, Serie A Disciplinary Tribunal decided not to sanction Cagliari because it estimated that the chants were rare. Thus, this decision provoked the anger of many organizations that fight against racial discrimination.

Those cases show clearly the variety of sanctions inside Europe depending on the country rules and tolerance regarding racism.

FIFA: According to Article 4 of the FIFA statutes: “Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”

According to article 2 of the 2017 version of the FIFA Disciplinary Code, “This code applies to every match and competition organised by FIFA.”

According to article 58.1.a) of the 2017 version of the FIFA Disciplinary Code, “Anyone who 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 shall be suspended for at least five matches. Furthermore, a stadium ban and a fine of at least CHF 20,000 shall be imposed. If the perpetrator is an official, the fine shall be at least CHF 30,000.”

According to article 58.2.a) of the 2017 version of the FIFA Disciplinary Code, “Where supporters of a team breach par. 1 a) at a match, a fine of at least CHF 30,000 shall be imposed on the association or club concerned regardless of the question of culpable conduct or culpable oversight.”

French players Ousmane Dembele and Paul Pogba were the victims of racial discrimination in a friendly game between France and Russia hosted by Russia in March 2018. Thus, FIFA Disciplinary Committee decided to fine the Russian football federation the amount of CHF 30000, in conformity with articles 2, 58.1.a) and 58.2.a) of the applicable 2017 version of the FIFA Disciplinary Code.

 

After almost 15 years without any major changes to the Disciplinary Code, on 15 July 2019 the new FIFA Disciplinary Code came into force. Remarkable changes took place on several topics. In fact, FIFA introduced four updates regarding the zero-tolerance principle on racism and any form of discrimination in article 13, namely.

The scope, definition and content of FIFA’s anti-racism and anti-discrimination vision have been fully aligned with the highest international standards. The article 13 of the 2019 FIFA Disciplinary Code is formulated in the following way:

“1.Any person who offends the dignity or integrity of a country, a person or group of people through contemptuous, discriminatory or derogatory words or actions (by any means whatsoever) on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, language, religion, political opinion, wealth, birth or any other status or any other reason, shall be sanctioned with a suspension lasting at least ten matches or a specific period, or any other appropriate disciplinary measure.

2.If one or more of an association’s or club’s supporters engage in the behavior described in paragraph 1, the association or club responsible will be subject to the following disciplinary measures:

  1. a) For a first offence, playing a match with a limited number of spectators and a fine of at least CHF 20,000 shall be imposed on the association or club concerned;
  2. b) For reoffenders or if the circumstances of the case require it, disciplinary measures such as the implementation of a prevention plan, a fine, a points deduction, playing one or more matches without spectators, a ban on playing in a particular stadium, the forfeiting of a match, expulsion from a competition or relegation to a lower division may be imposed on the association or club concerned.”

The three-step procedure for discriminatory incidents was the object of a letter sent from FIFA to all its Member Associations on the 25th of July 2019. FIFA stated in this letter “Based on Law 5 of the Laws of the Game, FIFA has used the three-step procedure for discriminatory incidents in its competitions since the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017. In accordance with the public call by the FIFA President, FIFA now urges all member associations, leagues, clubs and disciplinary bodies to introduce the three-step procedure in their domestic competitions, to pursue a zero-tolerance policy towards racist and discriminatory incidents in football, and to severely punish such behavior. The three-step procedure allows referees, in the event of serious discriminatory incidents in the stadium, to: 1. Stop the match and instruct the stadium authorities to read out an announcement, calling upon the spectators to stop the discriminatory behaviour;

  1. If this announcement does not have the desired effect, make another announcement, suspend the match and send the players to their dressing rooms for a specific period;
  2. After consultation, abandon the match if the discriminatory behaviour still does not cease or breaks out again.

Moreover, to guide its members, FIFA has developed a viable model that offers recommendations based on five basic pillars to clearly structure the promotion of diversity and anti-discrimination in football:

.Pillar 1: Regulations .Pillar 2: Controls and sanctions .Pillar 3: Education .Pillar 4: Networking and cooperation .Pillar 5: Communications

The rules relating to discrimination were also the object of an important evolution in the confederations as well. A comparison between UEFA and CAF current disciplinary regulations and older versions of the same regulations shows clearly the establishment of much more severe sanctions in order to fight discrimination.

UEFA: According to Article 11.bis of the UEFA disciplinary regulations (2011 version): “1 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.

2 If one or more of a member association or club’s supporters engage in the behavior described in paragraph 1, the member association or club responsible shall be fined €20,000.

3 If particular circumstances so require, 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.

4 All forms of ideological propaganda are forbidden. If this provision is breached, paragraphs 1 to 3 above apply.”

According to Article 14 of the UEFA disciplinary regulations (2019 version): “1 Any person under the scope of Article 3 who insults the human dignity of a person or group of persons on whatever grounds, including skin colour, race, religion, ethnic origin, gender or sexual orientation, incurs a suspension lasting at least ten matches or a specified period of time, or any other appropriate sanction.

2 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 is punished with a minimum of a partial stadium closure.

3 The following disciplinary measures apply in the event of recidivism: a. a second offence is punished with one match played behind closed doors and a fine of € 50,000;

  1. any subsequent offence is punished with more than one match behind closed doors, a stadium closure, the forfeiting of a match, the deduction of points and/or disqualification from the competition.

4 If the circumstances of the case require it, the competent disciplinary body may impose additional disciplinary measures on the member association or club responsible, such as the playing of one or more matches behind closed doors, a stadium closure, the forfeiting of a match, the deduction of points and/or disqualification from the competition.

5 If the match is suspended by the referee because of racist and/or discriminatory conduct, the match may be declared forfeit.

6 The above disciplinary measures may be combined with specific directives aimed at tackling such conduct.”

We can conclude from this comparison that the current UEFA disciplinary regulations are much more elaborate and establish much more severe sanctions than the previous ones.

CAF: According to Article 132 of the CAF disciplinary regulations (2007 version): “1. Anyone who publicly disparages, discriminates against or denigrates someone in a defamatory manner on account of race, colour, language, religion or ethnic origin, or perpetrates any other racist and/or contemptuous act, will be subject to match suspension for at least five matches at every level. Furthermore, a stadium ban and a fine of at least three thousand USD (3,000$) will be imposed on the perpetrator. If the perpetrator is an official, the fine will be at least five thousand USD (5,000$).

  1. If spectators display banners bearing racist slogans, or are guilty of any other racist and/or contemptuous behaviour at a match, the appropriate body will impose a sanction of at least five thousand USD (5,000$) on the association or club that the spectators concerned support and force it to play its next official match without spectators. If the spectators cannot be identified as supporters of one or the other association or club, the host association or club will be sanctioned accordingly.
  2. Any spectator who is guilty of any of the offences specified under par.

1 and/or 2 of this article will be banned from entering any stadium for at least two years.

  1. If any player, association or club official or spectator perpetrates any kind of racist or contemptuous act as described by par. 1 and/or 2 of this article, three points will automatically be deducted from the team concerned, if identifiable, after the first offence. In the case of a second offence, six points will automatically be deducted, and for a further offence, the team will be relegated.

In the case of matches without points, the team concerned, if identifiable, will be disqualified.

  1. Sanctions imposed on the basis of this article may be reduced or even disregarded if the player, team, club or association concerned can prove that it was not or was only minimally responsible for the offences in question or if other major reasons justify it, particularly if the offences were provoked intentionally to cause a player, team, club or association to be sanctioned in accordance with this article. The procedure for assessing mitigating circumstances shall be governed by this code.”

According to Article 132 of the CAF disciplinary regulations (2018 version): “1. Anyone who publicly disparages, discriminates against or denigrates someone in a defamatory manner on account of race, colour, language, religion or ethnic origin, or perpetrates any other racist and/or contemptuous act, will be subject to match suspension for at least five matches at every level. Furthermore, a stadium ban and a fine of at least ten Thousand US Dollars ($10.000) will be imposed on the perpetrator. If the perpetrator is an official, the fine will be at least twenty thousand US Dollars ($20.000).

  1. If spectators display banners bearing racist slogans, or are guilty of any other racist and/or contemptuous behaviour at a match, the appropriate body will impose a sanction of at least twenty thousand US Dollars ($20.000) on the association or club that the spectators concerned support and force it to play its next official match without spectators. If the spectators cannot be identified as supporters of one or the other association or club, the host association or club will be sanctioned accordingly.
  2. Any spectator who is guilty of any of the offences specified under par. 1 and/or 2 of this article will be banned from entering any stadium for at least two years.
  3. If any player, association or club official or spectator perpetrates any kind of racist or contemptuous act as described by par. 1 and/or 2 of this article, three points will automatically be deducted from the team concerned, if identifiable, after the first offence.

In the case of a second offence, six points will automatically be deducted, and for a further offence, the team will be relegated.

In the case of matches without points, the team concerned, if identifiable, will be disqualified.

  1. Sanctions imposed on the basis of this article may be reduced or even disregarded if the player, team, club or association concerned can prove that it was not or was only minimally responsible for the offences in question or if other major reasons justify it, particularly if the offences were provoked intentionally to cause a player, team, club or association to be sanctioned in accordance with this article. The procedure for assessing mitigating circumstances shall be governed by this code.”

It is very clear that the sanctions are much more severe in the current CAF disciplinary code than they were in the 2007 version.

On a national level, UK organization Kick It Out, a finalist at the FIFA Diversity Award 2016 and a recipient of support from The Football Association, uses an app that collects complaints and picture/video evidence of discriminatory incidents across the country.

This shows the importance of having national tools to fight discrimination.

I believe that many additional solutions can be established. First, FIFA should prioritize the fighting against discrimination in the schools and football academies all over the world in order to have non-discriminatory environments and players.  For example, Contracts with players and coaches could include a clause stipulating a specific number of working hours for diversity and anti-discrimination work. If they receive information about diversity and anti-discrimination, players and coaches can act as patrons for local schools or educational projects. They can then use their familiar face, their status as a role model, their knowledge and their experience, to connect with people in their region. Spectators can also be encouraged to get involved by initiating a joint action in a stadium. A task force could be used, for example, to encourage fans to also take action to foster diversity and anti-discrimination in the stadium and in their immediate environment.

On another side, imposing more severe sanctions on discrimination especially towards fans will definitely reduce discrimination in football, because most of the cases are related to fans. I propose to ban for life racist fans, because in this way, other fans will think twice before acting in a racist manner which will reduce automatically the number of racial discrimination cases.

In conclusion, discrimination remains a major problem in the world of football despite all the new amendments that aim to fight it. It seems that the effort should be done also on the educational stage not only the legal one, but more severe legal sanctions can definitely reduce discrimination in football.

 

 

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