Racism in football: Fines, bans & how it's punished in the sport

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Unfortunately, racial abuse is still rampant in football, with incidents of players being targeted with bigoted behaviour happening regularly.

Racial abuse is when players get targeted based on their skin colour or ethnicity with players and figures from various nationalities and backgrounds being aimed at.

In many European countries there has been increased incidents of footballers who are immigrants, non-white or from minority backgrounds being targeted as "other" – often the recipient of racist chanting, remarks and abuse.

Goal has everything you need to know about how instances of racism in football are punished, from fines and bans to points deductions and stadium closures.

  1. Fines
  2. Stadium bans, games played behind-closed-doors and closures
  3. Points deduction
  4. Arrests
  5. Stadium walkouts
  6. Not dealt with at all

How is racism in football being dealt with?

Fines

The most common and first order of punishment for racist behaviour in football is to punish the teams or associations of those involved with fines. 

FIFA's disciplinary code states that when a team's supporters are found guilty of exhibiting racist behaviour, the association or club is fined CHF30,000 (£23k/$30k). Additional punishments – such as stadium closures, bans and points deductions – may also be applied based on the severity of the case.

When  Montenegro fans racially abused England players Raheem Sterling, Danny Rose and Callum Hudson-Odoi during a European Championship qualifier in March 2019, Montenegro were handed a £17,396 fine as well as a one-game stadium closure.

Fines as a way to punish racism have been criticised by football figures, with Rose stating that such lenient sanctions would do little to really impact real change.

No room for racism 2019

"Obviously it is a bit sad. But when countries only get fined what I’d probably spend on a night out in London what do you expect?" said Rose. 

"You see my [former] manager [Mauricio Pochettino] get banned for two games for just being confrontational against Mike Dean at Burnley. But yet a country can only get fined a little bit of money for being racist. It’s just a bit of a farce at the minute. So that’s where we are at in football and until there’s a harsh punishment there’s not much else we can expect."

For some perspective, UEFA punished Denmark international Nicklas Bendtner £80,000 for showing a Paddy Power logo on his underwear during a goal celebration in 2012 – more than what teams have typically been fined for racist abuse.

Additionally, UEFA fined Besiktas roughly £30,000 for "insufficient organisation" when a cat ambled onto the pitch during a Champions League game against Bayern in March 2018. 

Stadium bans, games played behind-closed-doors and closures

Fans and figures found to have been involved in racist behaviour will be given a suspension of at least five games according to FIFA's disciplinary code.

This can also involve a stadium ban as well as a fine of at least CHF20,000 (£15k/$20k).

Following Bulgaria fans making monkey noises towards Tyrone Mings, Sterling and Marcus Rashford as well as making Nazi gestures during a Euro 2020 qualifier against England in October 2019, the national team were given a two-match stadium ban as well as a fine.

Bulgaria’s next qualifier against the Czech Republic the following month was played behind closed doors, while they were also ordered to display a banner with the words “No to Racism” – though anti-discrimination network Fare was disappointed with the sanctions.

“We welcome the speed of this decision but we are disappointed that Bulgaria will not be expelled from the Euro 2020 qualifying competition given their previous record and obvious inability to deal with the problems they face,” Fare said in a statement.

Points deduction

Teams whose fans have engaged in racist behaviour can be hit with points deductions from competitions, at both club and international level.

Croatia were fined €100,000 and handed a one-point ban in its Euro 2016 qualifying group after they played their qualifier against Italy on a field with a swastika etched on it.

They were also ordered to play their next two home matches in an empty stadium. 

Arrests

Arresting those who have instigated racist behaviour, or been involved in racist incidents, happens less frequently than being punished with fines and bans. 

Arresting individuals is arguably a more effective method to punishing racist behaviour than club fines, on the same level as stadium bans – as it affects the people in question specifically.

Greater Manchester Police arrested a man on suspicion of a "racially aggravated public order" during the Manchester derby in December 2019 . During the second half, Man Utd midfielder Fred was seen pelted with objects such as lighters and coins by the Man City fans as he was about to take a corner.

Another home supporter was also seen making racist monkey gestures in the direction of Fred and Jesse Lingard.

Fred Man Utd Man City 2019

Following full-time, City immediately issued a statement saying that they were investigating the matter with the police and would punish racist fans with life bans.

“Manchester City FC are aware of a video circulating on social media which appears to show a supporter making racial gestures during the second half of the match against Manchester United this evening," the statement read .

"The club operates a zero-tolerance policy regarding discrimination of any kind, and anyone found guilty of racial abuse will be banned from the club for life.”

Stadium walkouts

Several football figures have suggested that stadium walkouts take place in the event of racist behaviour during a match. The likes of Jurgen Klopp and Maurizio Sarri have put forward the idea of referees stopping the game and players walking off the pitch to take a stand against racist abuse from stands.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said: "The moment a match is stopped, or it's not played, I think that 90 per cent of normal people in the stadium would kick the asses of those idiots," said Ceferin. "It's 2019, it's not 100 years ago."

Sterling, however, stated that walking off the pitch would only cater to the agenda of racists, ultimately giving them the power in the situation: "I personally wouldn't agree with it. Try to go out and win the game. I think that will hurt them even more. They're only trying to get you down and if you do walk off the pitch, they kind of win. To score a goal or win a match, that beats them."

Not dealt with at all

Perhaps some of the most infamous racial incidents in recent times have taken place in Serie A. Romelu Lukaku has been on the receiving end of regular racist abuse since his arrival at Inter in 2019, subjected to monkey chants while Mario Balotelli kicked a ball into the crowd after receiving similar abuse at Hellas Verona.

When Lukaku complained of racist behaviour by Slavia Prague fans in the Champions League, the Czech side denied such chanting happening – and instead called on Lukaku to apologise for the accusation.

Afterwards, though, Serie A clubs announced a campaign against racism signed by all 20 of the league's teams in an open letter, which read: "An open letter to all those who love Italian football.

“We have to publicly recognise that we have a serious problem with racism. It’s a problem that we have not done enough to combat over the years."

How effective are racism punishments in football?

It's hard to say just how potent each of these punishments are in regards to racist behaviour, which should always be condemned – not just in football, but in all of society.

It makes sense to say that punishments that affect the individuals who engage with racist behaviour (stadium bans, arrests) would prove more impactful than simply fining a team or association.

It is disheartening, though, that racist incidents in football keep happening on a regular basis despite these punishments being handed out.

Croatia fans, for instance, didn't stop their racist behaviour by etching a Swastika logo on the pitch of the game that was already played behind closed doors, due to a previous incident that involved racist abuse.

Arrests, such as the one made to the Man City fan during the Manchester derby in December 2019 might prove to be more effective.

No room for racism 2019

It is the hope that high-profile instances of racism invite broader, more general awareness on the subject.

But as Gary Neville said following the incident during the Man Utd derby, this conversation isn't confined to just football, and the anti-immigrant agenda enabled by political figures can provoke this kind of hatred and ignorance.

“You talk about it being a societal problem and it absolutely is,” the ex-United and England defender  said on Sky Sports .

“You are watching the Prime Minister’s debate last night where he [Boris Johnson] is taking about migration to this country, and people having to have certain levels.

“It fuels it all the time. It has got worse over the last three years in this country and not just in football.”

Johnson, who has said women who wear burkas "look like letter boxes" and has described black people as having "watermelon smiles", was subsequently elected UK prime minister.