In a disconcerting departure from the typical racism incident in soccer, home fans for Real Betis are now being accused of making racist gestures toward one of their own players. In a game at the Estadio Benito Villamarin in Seville, Spain, Real Betis fans allegedly made racist gestures toward their own player, Brazilian defender Paulao, after he was shown a straight red card shortly before halftime in a game against crosstown rival Sevilla.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter responded through his increasingly preferred medium of communication, Twitter: “Sickened to learn of ‘fans’ racially abusing a Real Betis player. I condemn their actions, which were seen on TV/online by millions. FIFA’s members approved a resolution at Congress in May to tackle discrimination. It’s time for tougher sanctions. I will say again: It’s a nonsense to fight racism with fines. This has to be tackled by ALL competition organisers.”
Blatter’s tweets referenced the FIFA Resolution on the Fight Against Racism and Discrimination (the “Resolution”), which was the result of the May 30-31, 2013 meeting of the FIFA Congress. The Resolution reiterated a “zero tolerance” policy while announcing that three new initiatives—generally described as “Action Plans,” “Anti-Discrimination Officer,” and “Stricter Application of Sanctions”—would be implemented.
Under the Resolution, FIFA resolved first that “[c]ompetition organizers shall establish a concrete action plan, showing their intention to fight all forms of racism and discrimination among their players, officials and supporters.” Second, competition regulations must provide for a “specialized official to be in the stadium to identify potential acts of racism or discrimination with the aim of easing the pressure on referees and facilitating the availability of evidence for judicial bodies to take decisions. Finally, FIFA resolved that sanctions for supporter misconduct by individual organizations “shall in principle be issued in a two-stage approach:
- For a first or a minor offence, the sanctions of a warning, a fine and/or the playing of a match behind closed doors shall be applied.
- For reoffenders or for serious incidents, sanctions such as point deductions, expulsion from a competition or relegation should be applied.”
The new measures reflect a trend among organizations and associations toward tougher sanctions and more holistic approaches to stopping racism in soccer. As discussed by Business of Soccer, UEFA has followed the two-stage approach to combating racism by club supporters by implementing harsher penalties for incidents of racism, although perhaps with questionable impact or effect.
Indeed, it is the impact of the newly implemented rules that will be the measure of how successful this stronger stance of racism will be. Well-publicized announcements and tweets to nearly half million Twitter followers carry little weight without the decisive and meaningful application of the rules that are promulgated to curb racism. Until responsible organizations begin assessing serious penalties for racist incidents, a “zero tolerance” policy on racism will continue to be a talking point and not a reality.