The state authorities acting to tackle discrimination in football

In recent years there has been greater involvement of state bodies and government agencies in several European countries. Practice in countries such as Portugal, Romania, Spain and Italy, shows what can be done when there is greater multi-agency cooperation and involvement of state bodies in tackling discrimination to complement sports disciplinary process.

In Portugal, the National Authority for the Prevention and Fight Against Sports Related Violence (APCVD) sanctioned Vitoria Guimaraes with three matches behind closed doors and a €55,000 fine in October 2020. The sanction, which is one of the strictest ever imposed in Southern Europe for discriminatory abuse in football, came nearly 8 months after FC Porto striker Moussa Marega was racially abused in Primeira Liga match in February 2020. The club is currently appealing the APCVD administrative sanction in a judicial court in Portugal.

The APCVD had to intervene through a lengthy legal procedure prosecuting a misdemeanor in parallel to the Portuguese league, who fined the club only €714. The sporting sanction seems inadequate for an incident that saw the player walk off the pitch in tears after being racially abused.

The Portuguese APCVD was established recently to deal specifically with violence and discrimination in sport with the Vitoria Guimaraes case being one of their biggest interventions so far.

Rodrigo Cavaleiro, President of APCVD said: ‘Sports federations and clubs have well defined roles and responsibilities in our legal framework, especially towards safety management and supporters’ behavior. In this regard, they must assume an active role, being accountable for the cases where they do not fulfill their responsibilities.

In Romania, the National Council for Combating Discrimination (NCCD) has been tackling discrimination in sport since it was established as an independent national equality body in 2001. The NCCD have identified sport as an area that needs more focus and have issued multiple rulings on discrimination in sport. NCCD sanctioned George Becali, the infamous owner of Steaua București (now called FCSB) for sexism and homophobia, other clubs for racist and anti-Hungarian chants, and players and TV commentators for racist comments.

Cristian Jura, a board member of NCCD and a designated as a Romanian Secretary of State told us: ‘The National Council for Combating Discrimination applied the first sanction in 2005 against the mayor of the City of Craiova who called players of African descent ‘monkeys.’ Since then, in the field of racism and discrimination we have managed around 50 cases of discrimination, racism or harassment of athletes across sports, some of them fined amounts between €400 to €20,000. The National Council for Combating Discrimination have also acted on regional FAs, clubs and individuals for these types of acts.’

In Spain, the Barcelona Hate Crimes Prosecutor's Office charged two Espanyol fans for racist abuse targeting Athletic Bilbao striker Iñaki Williams during the LaLiga match between the two sides in January 2020. This is the first case in Spain when individuals were prosecuted by the state for racist abuse during a football match.

Iñaki Williams said on social media afterwards: “We are in a society in which there must be changes and this is one of them. I am very happy with the prosecution that has taken a very important step."

The Spanish State Commission against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport, commonly referred to as the Anti-violence Commission, has issued sanctions against clubs.

It has designated several far-right groups in football as ‘violent organisations’ banning their symbols from all football grounds. In 2019, the Commission fined Atletico Madrid €75,000 for failing to cooperate during an investigation and aiding the notorious far-right group ‘Frente Atletico’ who operate amongst their fans.

The Italian Office against Racial Discrimination, UNAR, has recently stepped up its efforts in football, announcing a new partnership with Serie A and civil society groups (such as UISP) to establish an observatory to monitor discriminatory incidents and launch educational efforts. UNAR will be far more involved in setting out protocols for clubs to act when there are discriminatory acts and may require minimum action when incidents occur.

The Council of Europe (CoE) provides an important framework for national governments to address violence at sport events through the Convention on an Integrated Safety, Security and Service Approach at Football Matches and Other Sports Events which was adopted in 2016 as an update of the European Convention on Spectator Violence.

The CoE has stimulated the creation of national bodies to tackle violence in sport, increased international cooperation through police National Football Information Points and since recently have expanded its focus to racism and discrimination, although policies on effective exclusion of perpetrators and addressing deep issues of discrimination in fan cultures remain a challenge.

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