An overview of the regulations on pitch invasions in Spanish football
Published 12 June 2019 By: Josep F. Vandellos Alamilla
The tragedies in the mid-eighties associated with violence, crowd charges and pitch invasions are well-known in international football and particularly, in the European context, they stand as the main driver behind the ratification of the European Convention on Spectator Violence and Misbehaviour at Sports Events and in particular at Football Matches1 of 19 August 1985. More recently, in February 2012, violent riots in Egypt football ended with 74 people dead after a pitch invasion.
Spain was alive to this global concern, and not only adopted the convention at a national level but also implemented specific domestic legislation targeting the risks behind pitch invasions in line with international commitments. The effective implementation occurred a little later than in countries like the UK or Italy; indeed, the author remembers going as a child to the Camp Nou (FC Barcelona stadium) in the early nineties2 and seeing the stands behind the goals (with no seats) and the insurmountable ditch surrounding the pitch to prevent spectators from getting onto the field of play.
The responsibility for regulating pitch invasions in Spain falls upon (i) the State, and (ii) Spain’s national football federation, the Real Federación Española de Futbol (RFEF). This article gives a brief overview of the two main (complimentary) sets of laws/regulations, namely:
Law 19/2007 of 11 July, against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport
Article 2.1 let. d) of Law 19/2007 explicitly defines non-authorized entry onto the field of play as a type of violence, a violent act or a conduct inciting violence. So an invasion onto the pitch by a fan who has no prior authorization is a violation of the Law.
Law 19/2007 and its related regulations5 apply to all official competitions with a national dimension,6 as well as to those organized or authorized by sports federations. In essence, it imposes a general obligation upon both the organizer of the competition and the participating clubs to implement measures to prevent and control risky situations and to take steps to ensure their observance by spectators. This includes but is not limited to:
organizing professional football competitions in all-seater stadiums only;
prohibiting alcohol in stadiums;
ensuring appropriate internal security protocols;
installing CCTV networks and feeds inside and outside the stadium;
ensuring appropriate access requirements and ticketing-sales controls;
coordinating appropriately with the police; and
refraining from subsidizing fan groups previously involved in infringements.
The law also provides the game’s referee with various powers in case of incidents occurring during a game, such as the possibility to temporarily or permanently suspend the game, or to order the vacation of certain stands if needs be.
The organizer of an event is considered to be economically and administratively responsible for any damage or disturbances that occur due to its failure to exercise due care/diligence or its failure to implement its obligations under the Law.
Additionally, Law 19/2007 includes sanctions for both individuals and organizers/clubs that can consist of:
fines ranging from €150 - €650,000 depending on the nature and gravity of the infringement;
the obligation to do community works in some sports domain;
a ban on persons accessing the stadium ranging from 1 month to 5 years; and
closure of the stadium.
Clubs are also obliged to withdraw the membership status of any person(s) who are sanctioned with a stadium access ban under Law 19/2007.
The public authorities responsible for identifying infringements of Law 19/2007 are (i) the State Committee against Violence, Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Sport and, (ii) the police and government bodies (who can in turn also enforce the Law and impose fines).
As readers will note, the Law differentiates between infringements carried out by persons linked to a sports federations or clubs (such as clubs, club officials, staff - who are subject to the ‘internal" sports regulatory/disciplinary system) from infringements by other persons (such as spectators, who are subject to general domestic laws). The difference is relevant in terms of identifying the body responsible for investigating and prosecuting any possible violation of the Law. If the offender is not connected to a sports federation, the authority to sanction belongs to the competent government authority. If the offender is linked to a sports federation, then the violation relates to sports discipline and the power to sanction is delegated under the Law to the requisite sports governing body (subject to the ordinary jurisdictional oversight by state courts). In the case of football, this is the RFEF (and in particular its Disciplinary Committee) with reference to their Disciplinary Code (discussed below). Needless to say, a pitch invasion can simultaneously result in different types of liability for both individuals and sports organisations (i.e. criminal, administrative, disciplinary).
The RFEF Disciplinary Code
The RFEF’s competence extends only to assessing and administering penalties in relation to sports-related disciplinary matters over persons who are part of the federation’s structure, including clubs, officials, referees, players and coaches (i.e. those who are contractually bound by RFEF’s regulations).
Article 15 of the RFEF Disciplinary Code7 establishes the general responsibility of clubs for violations relating to pitch invasions. This means a club is prima facie liable for any invasion unless it can demonstrate that it diligently observed all obligations and implemented all the security measures as stipulated under Law 19/2007 to avoid or mitigate such risk. Further to that, Article 69 considers as violent conduct the invasion of the pitch by spectators accompanied by acts or expressions of violent, racist, xenophobic, discriminatory or intolerant nature.
The sanctions for breach may vary depending on the particular circumstances of each case. For instance, in cases where clubs fail to adopt security measures or lack diligence or fail to cooperate in impeding or preventing violent acts, Article 73 allows for:
the imposition of a fine ranging from €18,001 to €90,000 against clubs (and, to the extent they are responsible, club officials, referees, coaches and players);
the total or partial closure of the stadium ranging from one match to the end of the season;
holding matches behind closed doors;
a points deduction;
the withdrawal of the license if the person violating the obligation holds a license (footballer or a coach).
According to Article 101, if the pitch invasion is considered to be a severe infringement and occurs for the first time during the season, the Disciplinary Committee can sanction the club with a fine of up to €6,000 and the partial closure of the stadium for one match, and issue a warning to the club that they will face total closure and higher fines if circumstances are repeated.
If instead the pitch invasion is considered a minor offence, the club may be sanctioned with a fine up to €600 euro pursuant to Article 110.
Notwithstanding the regulations, there have still been several pitch invasions in recent years. However, these have mostly been cases of fan celebrations after their club won the title8, won promotion, managed to escape relegation9 or qualified for UEFA Club competitions. In fact, it occurred just last month (18 May) when RCD Espanyol Barcelona secured a spot in the 2019/20 edition of the UEFA Europa League in the very last match of the competition (a copy of the resulting sanction is available here10). Such "invasions" are generally festive in nature but are still recorded by the referee in the match report and subsequently sanctioned by the competent bodies or authorities. "Festive" incidents aside, there has not been any major incident in Spain in recent years and it would be fair to conclude that the current regulatory system in place has proven to be effective in deterring fans from invading the pitch. If there is any area for improvement, a revision and update to better delineate the line between sports discipline and general administrative responsibilities of clubs would, in the authors view, be beneficial.
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- Tags: Football | Pitch Invasions | Real Federación Española de Futbol (RFEF) | RFEF Disciplinary Code | Safety | Spain
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Josep is an independent lawyer with extensive experience in international sports law. During the last ten years his practice has entirely focused in representing athletes, clubs, national associations, agents and coaches in front of the different dispute resolution bodies and the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne (Switzerland). He also advises his clients on a regular basis in contract drafting and negotiations.