The Football Lawyer: Uefa has made moves to stamp out racism, but only time will tell if they grow more forceful
The shortlist for the 2013 BBC African Footballer of the Year has been announced, and, for the fifth successive year, Yaya Toure has found himself among the names. The Manchester City and Ivory Coast midfielder may have fallen short of silverware last season, but in recent months he has demonstrated even greater leadership away from the field than he does during ninety minutes of football. Toure’s powerfully-stated opposition to racist chants in a Uefa Champions League game, away at CSKA Moscow, seemed to represent a tipping-point in football’s attitude to this issue, and the game’s administrators were called upon to take action.
They now have everything within their power to do so. A few months earlier, at its 63rd Congress at the very end of May, Fifa had rolled out its most severe set of anti-discrimination penalties yet. In a six-page document, “Resolution On The Fight Against Racism and Discrimination”, the organisation stated a stance of zero tolerance towards offences of this nature. The most eye-catching passage read as follows:
“For a first or a minor offence, the sanctions of a warning, a fine and/or the playing of a match behind closed doors shall be applied. For reoffenders or for serious incidents, sanctions such as point deductions, expulsion from a competition or relegation should be applied.”
This is strong stuff – and, for players who have endured racial abuse at football grounds, reassurungly so. Fifaseems to have understood that a stadium is a footballer’s place of work, and as such he or she is entitled to protection when performing there. Presumably emboldened by these measures, Uefaproceeded to order CSKA’s partial closure of its stadium for its next home UefaChampions League fixture, on 27 November against Bayern Munich.
Toure, given his comments after the CSKA game, would not think that this went nearly far enough. “A couple of months ago”, he told Manchester City’s official website, “a friend was playing at Milan and he had the same problem, and today with me again, it’s always the same… They have to ban them at some stage, they have to ban a club for a couple of years.”
Toure’s complaints of constant abuse strike a familar chord. One of my clients found the racism so bad in one country, even involving intimidation when he was going shopping in town, that he left, and is now playing in the Premier League, where he is much happier. Another client of mine abroad is experiencing similar problems, and is desperate to leave. There is obviously only so much that the authorities can do to minimise these problems, but it is to be hoped that they do everything in their power to do so.
The key question is how they will construe what amounts to a “serious incident” for the purposes of “point deductions, expulsion from a competition or relegation”. With the CSKA ruling, it looks as though Uefa has made its first steps, no matter how tentative they are considered by some. Time will tell if they grow more forceful. In the meantime, these new rules will be welcomed by those players, far from the television cameras, who are the target of racist insults week in, week out; and that, in itself, is cause for celebration.
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