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The World Cup – spotlight on FIFA’s anti-discrimination measures

As England make their final preparations, go through their pre-match rituals and prepare for their opening game of the World Cup let’s hope that it is the football that makes the headlines, writes Lydia Banerjee.

The build up to England leaving for the World Cup has been full of stories of fears of racism, discrimination and harassment. Danny Rose in particular has been vocal about his lack of faith in the establishment to tackle racism and prevent it taking place.  His views have been shaped by his experience in the under 21’s side where after receiving monkey chants and stone throwing during a game he was sent off after the whistle for kicking a ball into the crowd.  A fine was imposed on the team whose fans had been perpetrating the abuse but as a young player losing the right to play in the first game of the competition in circumstances where you have been the recipient of such abuse perhaps his disillusionment is understandable.

There have been reports of England holding discussions and making plans to deal with racism should it arise. Southgate has spoken about the idealistic reaction of walking off in response to racism highlighting that the reality, being thrown out of the tournament, is a consequence which no one wants. So what are England’s options and what penalties exist for those found guilty of abuse?

The short answer is that England need to let the football do the talking. Southgate believes that their biggest impact is as one of the most diverse squads to have left England and there is no doubt that a diverse squad playing as a team is the best response to small minded prejudice.  As Danny Rose knows retaliation is not worth the penalty. Of course behind the scenes England must be ready to support those who are subject to abuse of any kind and the squad and management all have a role to play in this but short of making complaints to FIFA there is very little that the FA can do to prevent or challenge such behaviour.

What are the penalties for those found guilty? The FIFA disciplinary code applies to spectators as well as associations, officials, players and others (Article 3).  The code provides that the sanctions available against a natural person or legal person are a warning, a reprimand, a fine or the return of awards (Article 10).  Insofar as is relevant penalties against natural persons are a ban from entering a stadium or a ban on taking part in any football-related activity (Article 11).  Sanctions against a legal person include, playing without spectators, playing on neutral territory, annulment of the result, ban on playing in a particular stadium, deduction of points or forfeit (Article 12).  The most common penalty is a fine which shall not be less than 500 Swiss francs and not more than 1,000,000 Swiss Francs (Article 15). 

Specific provision is made in the Disciplinary Code for the conduct of supporters.  In this scenario Article 58 para 2 provides for a minimum fine of 30,000 Swiss Francs regardless of culpable conduct or culpable oversight.  Serious offences can also be met with other sanctions including playing the match behind closed doors, forfeit of the match, a points deduction or disqualification from the competition.  Any individual found guilty shall receive a stadium ban of at least two years.

In May Russia was fined £22,737 for racist chants by their supporters during a friendly against France. To put the level of fine in context it is worth remembering that England were fined £16,000 when a youth player was seen drinking the wrong brand of drink. FIFA’s deputy secretary general Zvonimir Boban justified the apparently lenient penalties for racism on the basis that it would be wrong to punish the country for the actions of a few.  Others have suggested that perhaps it shows where FIFA’s true priorities lie.  At the very least higher fines would motivate national associations to do everything in their power to stamp out racism among their supporters.

So here we are, the world is watching.  We are told by FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, that ensuring racism does not happen at the World Cup is a “very high priority…and we will make sure no incidents will happen…by taking a hardline approach”.  How he can be so confident is a mystery but we watch to see what a ‘hardline approach’ means in a context so far dominated by relatively low level fines.

It is easy to have sympathy with the difficult balance between penalising the perpetrators and not penalising the whole country for the conduct of the few but it could be argued that in granting the hosting rights of this World Cup to a country with such a questionable human rights and equality record FIFA have a problem of their own making. 

In the meantime, may the most diverse team win!

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