Though football may be regarded as the most competitive team sport, one area of football where we strive to speak with a united voice is through our actions in addressing racist behaviour in our stadiums.
There are two actions necessary in tackling racist conduct at football matches. The first action is via awareness campaigns and the education programmes which are being run across the continent. This is the first way to kick racism out of football.
The second action, which attracts more commentary from the media, is via disciplinary sanctions. It is one thing to say that there is a zero tolerance policy towards racism, but you have to act, and you have to act by having sanctions that have a deterrent effect.
European football has been taking this matter seriously by ensuring there is a deterrent effect. The last meeting of the Professional Football Strategy Council (PFSC) in Sofia on 27 March, involving representatives of Europe's national associations (UEFA), clubs (ECA), leagues (EPFL) and players (FIFPro Division Europe), unanimously adopted a resolution aimed at combating racism and discrimination in football.
This resolution was ratified by the UEFA Executive Committee at its subsequent meeting in Sofia, where it was also proposed that UEFA's disciplinary regulations for the 2013/14 season be revised, and that these revisions – to be ratified by the UEFA Executive Committee in London on 22/23 May – form the basis of a resolution that will be presented to UEFA's 53 member associations at the UEFA Congress the following day.
The proposed resolution – European football united against racism – will include stiffer sanctions and penalties against clubs, players and officials convicted of any racist offence. Players and officials can expect to face more stringent sanctions, with bans of at least ten matches being imposed for racist offences.
Additionally, if supporters engage in racist behaviour, there will be a partial stadium closure for a first offence and a full stadium closure plus a fine of €50,000 for a second offence, should they fail to heed the first warning. UEFA also encourages state authorities to ban fans from attending matches if they are found guilty of engaging in racist conduct.
Referees have been reminded that the UEFA Executive Committee already approved guidelines back in 2009, empowering them to stop, suspend or even abandon matches via a three-step process aimed at tackling racism head-on. This is important also from a sporting standpoint, as the abandonment of a game will automatically open a disciplinary procedure and the match may then be declared forfeit.
This is clear. This is serious. But this is also known to (and supported by) everyone. One case of racism in European football is one too many, and European football stands united against it.
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