Racist chants and AC Milan leaves the field! The legal fallout - an Italian lawyer's perspective
Published 09 February 2013 By: Edoardo Revello
The images of the friendly match between Pro Patria v AC Milan on 3 January 2013 has been seen around the world: after repeated racist chants toward the black players of Milan by some pseudo fans of the home team, the Ghanaian midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng, exasperated and extremely offended by the situation, decided to throw the ball at the alleged abusers, pull off his shirt and promptly leave the field. Thereupon, all his teammates followed him into the changing room in solidarity causing the abandonment of the match. Aside from any obvious moral stigma, here we are going to focus on the developments from the point of view both of the ordinary justice and the sports justice.
First of all, the small group of supporters, identified by means of the video surveillance system of the stadium, will be accused of breaking criminal law n.205/1993. These rules have the aim of fighting against actions and slogans related to the Nazi-fascist ideology, which could lead to episodes of violence and discrimination due to racial, ethnic or religious abuse. In addition to the criminal penalties (article 1 expressly provides for the imprisonment for up to one and half years as well as a fine of up to €6,000 in case of incitement to racial hatred), they will also receive a "DASPO" (i.e. prohibiting access to any sporting event for five years), as introduced by Law n.401/1989 with the aim of combating violence during sporting events.
Then, on the other side, what will be the consequences for Pro Patria? For this we need to refer to article 11 par.1 of the Sports Justice Code of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), which considers as discriminatory behavior (punishable at the disciplinary level) any conduct capable of offending, denigrating, insulting due to reasons of "race, color, religion, language, gender, nationality, ethnic origin". Paragraph 3 states that the clubs shall be responsible for the introduction of discriminating banners inside the stadium by their supporters, as well as for racist chants and any other form of discrimination. Accordingly, the sports judge will usually impose a fine ranging from €10,000 to €50,000, but the club, according to article 13, can be exempted from liability whenever it is able to demonstrate the existence of some specific circumstances, such as:
- a strict cooperation with the police authorities in order to prevent episodes of violence and/or to identify those fans responsible for breaking the rules; and/or
- an immediate response to stop chants and/or other forms of discrimination with announcements of the speaker and with the intervention of the stewards
In the current case, the sports judge considered the racist behavior of the fans as "particularly serious" and condemned Pro Patria to a more severe penalty: a game behind closed doors. He was able to apply this sanction according to article 11.3 of the Code which provides for an aggravation of the penalty in the case of a recidivist attitude of the supporters. Since the club had already received a fine last October due to similar episodes, the increased penalty was almost inevitable.
Now we have clarified the position of the home team we move on to consider the possible consequences for AC Milan. Notwithstanding the support received from the entire world of sport, it is also true that a club is not entitled to leave the field of its own accord, whatever the reasons.
In this regard, article 62 par. 6 of NOIF (i.e. the Federal Organizational Regulations) expressly states that, "the responsible [person] for public order at the stadium, as appointed by the Home Office, when he notices serious racists banners and/or chants by the supporters shall order the referee not to start or to suspend the game". Therefore a club can only report a racist behavior, but has to submit to the final decision of the delegate of the Ministry. Consequently, the sports judge could have sanctioned AC Milan, but he decided not to do so giving an interesting reasoning, "provided that in the current sports legal order a club cannot leave the field unless ordered by the referee or the responsible for public order, the decision of AC Milan - however - does not have a disciplinary relevance, since it represents a gesture of solidarity in accordance with the essential values of sport".
The Boateng issue certainly represents a remarkable step forward in the fight against racism: a phenomenon to be defeated with strength of both Governments and sports institutions as well. Yet much remains to be done: even FIFA, at the international level, recently adopted similar sanctions (i.e. a match behind closed doors) towards the national teams of Hungary and Bulgaria due to the racist conduct of their supporters with the "warning" of more severe sanctions in the case of repeat episodes.
Notwithstanding the almost inescapable law of the "show must go on", when racism enters the field the game has to be stopped and the ball cannot roll anymore.
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Attorney at law in Milan. Assistant Professor of the postgraduate Course in “Sports Law and Sports Justice” at the Faculty of Law of the University of Milan. Alternate Member of the Appeal Committee of FICSF ("Federazione Italiana Canottaggio Sedile Fisso"). Founding Member of “Centro Studi Diritto Sport” (“Sports Law Research Center”) based in Milan.