How homophobic football chants are addressed under the FIFA Disciplinary Code

Published 03 March 2016 | Authored by: Elaine Banton

The recent fining of several Latin American countries by FIFA for homophobic chanting1 during 2018 World Cup qualifying games has again placed the spotlight on one of the more unsavoury aspects of the beautiful game.

This piece recaps the facts of these recent incidents, reviews how such behaviour is currently addressed under the FIFA Disciplinary Code2 (the “Code”), and asks more generally whether enough is being done to address homophobia in football.

 

Facts

In January, FIFA handed out substantial fines to the football associations of Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay for homophobic chants by supporters during qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup.

The fines were given by FIFA after studying evidence gathered by its Anti-Discrimination Monitoring System. Argentina, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay were each fined CHF 20,000 (£13,900) for single cases while Chile has been fined a total of CHF 70,000 for four cases (£48,600).

In relation to the incidents, FIFA stated:

"All of the proceedings relate to homophobic chants by the respective team's fans, with the FIFA Disciplinary Committee finding the associations to have violated article 67 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code (FDC).3

 

The Code’s position on homophobic chanting

Article 67 of the Code states:

"Liability for Spectator Conduct

  1. The home association or home club is liable for improper conduct among spectators, regardless of the question of culpable conduct or culpable oversight, and, depending on the situation, may be fined. Further sanctions may be imposed in the case of serious disturbances.
  2. The visiting association or visiting club is liable for improper conduct among its own group of spectators, regardless of the question of culpable conduct or culpable oversight, and, depending on the situation, may be fined. Further sanctions may be imposed in the case of serious disturbances. Supporters occupying the away sector of a stadium are regarded as the visiting association’s supporters, unless proven to the contrary.
  3. Improper conduct includes violence towards persons or objects, letting off incendiary devices, throwing missiles, displaying insulting or political slogans in any form uttering insulting words or sounds, or invading the pitch.
  4. The liability described in par. 1 and 2 also includes matches played on neutral ground, especially during final competitions."

By chanting homophobic slurs, the supporters in question offended paragraph 3: “uttering insulting words or sounds.

Although a fine was imposed by FIFA, the article does allow for further sanctions. These, as set out in detail in the Code, could include suspension and banning from matches. The Code also allows for increase in sanction on repeated infringements (Article 40). In this case, however, FIFA chose not to consider further sanctions.

In is noteworthy that the Code contains no specific rule to deal with homophobic chanting or behaviour. Readers will have noted that the breached Article 67 relates to liability for spectator conduct.

Comparison to race discrimination

By way of comparison, specific account is made for race discrimination under “Article 58 Discrimination”. Indeed far more serious penalties are expressly provided for race discrimination under Article 58 paragraph 2a such as a fine of at least CHF 30,000 where supporters’ actions are found to “offend(s)the dignity of a person or group of persons through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigratory words or actions concerning race, colour, language, religion or origin.

More serious offences may be punished with additional sanctions4 such as “an order to play a match behind closed doors, the forfeit of a match, a points deduction or disqualification from the competition” (Article 58 para 2b) and a stadium ban of at least two years (Article 58 para 3) for spectators proven to have breached this rule.

Were FIFA’s punishments adequate and can more be done to address homophobic chants?

On the subject of the fines FIFA stated:

"We have been fighting discrimination for many years and one part of that has been through sanctions," "… Disciplinary proceedings alone cannot change behaviour by certain groups of fans that unfortunately goes against the core values of our game."5 (Claudio Sulser, chairman of FIFA’s disciplinary committee)

Whilst it is true that disciplinary offences cannot change behaviours of fans, it can send out a strong message of what is acceptable and what will not be tolerated.

The level of fine of CHF 20,000 for individual cases for homophobic chants is, as seen above, actually below the minimum level set for cases involving racial slurs made by supporters.

Thus, whilst the author acknowledges that prompt and serious action was taken this time, arguably the question remains: just how seriously does FIFA take homophobic chanting? Why, for instance isn’t sexuality, gender, age etc. covered under the express Discrimination provisions (Article 58).

 

The broader issue of addressing homophobia in football

In addition to the chanting incidents above, the author would like to draw attention to a few other recent examples to illustrate how much more needs to be done in the continuing efforts to eradicate homophobia from the game.

Internationally, many commentators6 have raised concerns on the subject of FIFA’s approach to homophobic abuse in football following FIFA’s decision of to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.

Neither country has a particularly tolerant approach to homosexuality. In 2013, Russia passed a law banning the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships towards minors.7 Qatar has rules outlawing homosexual sex punishable from between one and three years imprisonment.8 In 2010, Sepp Blatter was forced to apologise9 for saying that gay football fans shouldn’t have sex in Qatar when hosting the 2022 World Cup. Qatar and Russia have done little to allay concerns on this subject and such response from FIFA has not assisted.

On a more domestic level the response to homophobic chanting has been rather hit and miss. Homophobic chanting would infringe The FA’s rules on conduct and/or amount to a criminal offence under the Public Order Act 1986, or could result in a Football Banning Order.

In April 2013 the Brighton and Hove Albion Supporters’ Club (BHASC) and the Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN) sent a report10 to The FA, The Football League and the Footballer Supporters Federation (FSF) detailing the level of homophobic abuse aimed at Brighton Supporters. In that report, it was pointed out that Brighton fans had been subjected to homophobic abuse:

  • By at least 72% of opponents;
  • In at least 70% of away games;
  • In at least 57% of all their matches so far this season11

BHASC positioned observers at all matches to report homophobic abuse and had in appropriate circumstances written to the opposition club involved to complain.

Whilst some clubs have taken action, others have less helpful positions:

  • 18/08/12 Hull City – player rubbing his hands over backside in front of Brighton fans: Hull City FC defended its player saying he had done nothing wrong.
  • 23/10/12 Leicester City – Variety of chants – In the past Leicester FC have dismissed similar complaints as banter.

Meanwhile on the international stage, where the tumultuous events of last December have undoubtedly taken their toll on the governance of FIFA, one must hope that there is real willingness and dedication to tackle this important issue. We watch with interest as to what FIFA’s next move will be.

 

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About the Author

Elaine Banton

Elaine Banton

Elaine is a barrister and specialist in employment discrimination and sports law at 7 Bedford Row. She is a member of BASL and her practice includes sports law often featuring a discrimination and/or human rights angle. Elaine writes and speaks regularly on sports law matters.
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