Football: racism on the rise!

By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw

From media and other accounts, racism in football – at the elite and also at the grass roots levels – continues to rise, despite the efforts of the football authorities to ‘kick it out’ of the game!

It has been reported that racism has more than doubled in the last five years.

The latest glaring example followed the 2019 UEFA Super Cup game, held on 14 August in Turkey, with racist abuse, on social media, directed at Chelsea striker, Tammy Abraham, after his penalty shot was saved by the Liverpool keeper, thus giving them the victory.

Gianni Infantino, the FIFA President, has condemned this rising trend and stated that racism has no place in football – whether at the highest professional level or in a school playground. “Racism needs to end. Full stop.”

In fact, FIFA has recently updated its Disciplinary Code after 15 years – not before time, one might argue! – and has reinforced its zero-tolerance policy on racism and discrimination in any and all its hideous forms.

Article 13 of the Code, effective as of 15 July 2019, now provides as follows:

“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, status 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.”

As a general rule, a match is automatically forfeited if the referee decides to abandon it after having applied the three-step procedure for disciplinary incidents.

The three-step procedure allows referees to stop, suspend or abandon games due to racist chanting.

FIFA is encouraging a wider adoption by football bodies of this procedure, which is already in use in all FIFA and UEFA tournaments and also in Britain.

For reoffenders involved in racist or discriminatory incidents or if the circumstances of the case require it, the disciplinary measures now include the implementation of a prevention plan to foster education on diversity and fight discrimination in football.

Also, FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee may permit the victim to make a statement, allowing the latter to participate in the proceedings.

The revised Code also contains some new provisions regarding the enforcement of both financial and non-financial decisions of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee set out in Article 15.

FIFA acknowledges that it must use its prominent global position to exercise its power as football’s world governing body.

Also, pursuant to new Article 42 of the Code, FIFA may provide financial legal aid and access to legal counsel, who will act on a ‘pro bono’ basis, to those whose financial means would otherwise preclude them from participating in disciplinary proceedings.

Notwithstanding all of the above, the question is being asked in many quarters, including amongst players and fans: are these measures strong enough to deter racism in football and halt its rise and facilitate its decline in future?

Sadly, time alone will tell and one should not, I fear, hold one’s breath!

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw may be contacted by e-mail at ‘ian.blackshaw@orange.fr’