BY PROFESSOR IAN BLACKSHAW
At the beginning of a new football season, football hooliganism, often referred to as ‘the English disease’, is once again in the news with the announcement of new guidelines that have just been issued to tackle the problem.
Although arrests for football-related offences at domestic and international games are down by 24% for the period 2011 -2012, with football banning orders down from 3,173 to 2,750, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) are determined to rid the ‘beautiful game’ of this scourge in England and Wales.
In a joint initiative of the Police and Prosecutors, they set out in their guidelines how violence, disorder, criminal damage and abuse will be tackled. In particular, assault of players by fans, discriminatory chanting, invasions of pitches and the throwing of flares and fireworks at football grounds will be specifically targeted. Also, online abuse of players and fellow supporters on social media, such as ‘twitter’ and ‘facebook’, with the focus on homophobia, the last taboo in football, will be outlawed. For example, it has been reported that fans of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club have been subjected to homophobic abuse at some 70% of their away games last season; Brighton being regarded by many as the ‘gay capital’ of England!
The CPS said that, whilst there was a place for humour in football, “where the line between humour and offensive behaviour is crossed then positive action will be taken.”
This tough stance by the CPS and ACPO is being supported by the English Football Association, whose spokesman “welcomed” this initiative. Nick Hawkins, lead sports prosecutor at the CPS, summed up the position in the following uncompromising terms:
“Decent, law-abiding football fans deserve to be reassured that the criminal justice system is better equipped than ever before to protect their right to follow their teams in safety, while players, referees and supporters should know that harassment and abuse against them will not be tolerated.”
We have heard tough words about kicking hooliganism out of football many times before from national and international football authorities, so this time, if this initiative is to have any credibility at all, fine words will have to be matched by deeds, with prosecutions of offenders and the imposition of three-year long football banning orders, which will prevent them from attending the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and Euro 2016 in France!
Zero tolerance must be the name of the game!
Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an International Sports Lawyer and Academic and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’