Racist Abuse in Football

Can the law intervene to prevent cases of abuse in football?

Racism in Football

Currently the highest level of Football in England – the FA Premier League – is an extremely cosmopolitan league with players from all over the world plying their trade as footballers in England. The law has had a huge effect in this area following the decision in the Bosman case effectively opening the gates to players from all over Europe.

As a consequence of this globalization of football one problem which has persisted in English football has at times become more apparent.

The problem of racism has been a problem suffered for years in football and involves racist abuse from opposing players, fans and in some cases even teammates.

Let’s Kick Racism out of Football

The National Governing Body of football in England, the Football Association (FA) runs a campaign called “Lets Kick Racism out of Football” which is designed specifically to rid the sport of racist abuse targeting both players and fans alike.

Similarly, the World Governing Body of football – FIFA – runs campaigns to remove racism from the sport through their Fair Play campaign.

The Football Governing Bodies

The governing bodies of football such as the FA, FIFA and UEFA (the European Governing Body of Football) have the power to investigate any allegations of racist abuse made by players and fans and are able to hand down penalties.

Often these governing bodies will therefore be the first port of call for players who have suffered racist abuse enabling the sport to deal with the matter internally. It is the official position stated by FIFA that when a player suffers racist abuse, the matter should be dealt with by the sport rather than the courts.

Examples of cases involving racism

In a high profile case involving a black South African player playing for a Premier League club in European competition, the complaint was made to UEFA and the player was handed a five match ban from competitive football.

It was clear that UEFA found significant grounds of racist abuse, but the issue with this case is whether a five match ban is an appropriate sanction for this kind of abuse. The key questions are whether it was enough to discourage the same player to commit a similar act or to discourage other players from committing similar acts. Many felt that this punishment was not enough for either of these factors.  

Is it possible for a football player to take a case of racism to court?

There has been a case in French football whereby a player who suffered racist abuse at the hands of an opponent took the case to court. The player guilty of the racist abuse was given a suspended jail sentence and a fine of EUR 2,000.

Currently there is a case before the Belgian courts involving a black footballer from the USA who has suffered racist abuse at the hands of one of his opponents.

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For more information on:

  • What are the problems with bringing such a case before the court?
  • What will happen if the court finds in favour of the claimant?
  • The Law of England and Wales
  • The Race Relations Act 1976
  • Vicarious Liability
  • Can a football club be vicarious liable for the actions of their players under the Race Relations Act?
  • Disciplinary Action against employees