Racism in football has cast its ugly for some time, and for some time it appeared that football was doing much to get its house in order. But recent events such as the reports of racist abuse directed towards black England players by Montenegro fans during England's 1-5 win in the Euro 2020 qualifiers, and the subsequent announcement by UEFA that it would be investigating the complaints raised by the English FA.
In recent years, many notable voices such as Ian Wright and Raheem Sterling have complained that the punishments handed out by UEFA for racist behaviour by fans have been nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Examples of recent punishments handed down by UEFA include:
Greece - fined £8500 and ordered to partially close the stadium for their next game after racist behaviour during their 1-0 win over Estonia
Romania - full stadium ban for 1 match and £44500 fine during 0-0 draw against Serbia.
Russia - fined £30000 for racist chanting including monkey noises.
So what powers does actually UEFA have to punish national FA's whose fans vent such vile abuse towards black footballers?
First, we must look at the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, and particularly, Article 14 - 'Racism, other discriminatory conduct and propaganda' which covers racist behaviour by fans, players, and officials. It defines racism as "insulting the human dignity of a person or group of persons on whatever grounds, including skin colour, race, religion or ethnic origin", and covers players, match and team officials, and also fans. In terms of fan conduct, UEFA defines this in Art 8 as a strict liability offence - meaning that a club or national association is directly answerable for the conduct of its fans.
To dig further into Art 14:
Art 14.1 states that any player, team official, match official or anyone directly connected with the team or UEFA faces an automatic ban of at least 10 matches.
Art 14.2 - Racist behaviour from fans. If a club or national team's fans engage in racist behaviour then the minimum penalty UEFA can impose is a partial stadium closure.
Art 14.3 - (a) - If the fans of that club/national team commit a second offence at a different fixture, then UEFA can impose a €50000 fine and make that club/national team play one game behind closed doors.
Art 14.3 - (b) - If a further offence is committed within 3 years, then UEFA may impose further penalties such as stadium closures, increase the number of games played behind closed doors, and even disqualify teams from competition.
Art 14.4 allows UEFA to impose additional sanctions if the evidence suggests a more serious penalty may be appropriate.
In terms of the range of punishments at its disposal, this is contained within Art 6, and in terms of offences covered under Art 14, UEFA has the ability to impose a wide range of potential punishments, from reprimands or warnings, fines up to €1 million, and disqualification and withdrawal of titles.
So if UEFA has the ability to impose such harsh penalties on those whose fans hurl racist abuse, why has it not done so in the past if it is so serious about combating racism? To compare those fines mentioned above, Besiktas were fined € 34000 for letting a cat run on the pitch during a Champions League against Bayern Munich. (The average fine imposed by UEFA for average chanting is around €12000).
An element of this may be down to imposing a penalty to match the offender, many of the offenders appear to come from Eastern European nations, where the national FA may not be financially wealthy, so the fine may be commensurate with their ability to pay. But even then, wouldn't a more incentivised method to encourage clubs/FA's to clean up their act be to make them play behind closed doors and deprive them of ticket revenue, as they did with the Croatia v England Nations League match in October 2018.
So in regards to the Montenegro fans, can we expect UEFA to impose a penalty to match the crime? With the increased scrutiny, maybe so, but their past record in this area does not give great hope.....