Date: 4th March 2016
100,000s OF SUPPORTERS FROM ACROSS EUROPE ADDRESS UEFA IN OPEN LETTER
More than 100 supporter umbrella groups from 18 countries call for UEFA to reconsider its disciplinary policy on racism.
With the kick-off of the next round of European club competition matches, Dynamo Kyiv was originally sanctioned to play their Champions League game against Manchester City behind closed doors. For Manchester City fans, this would have been the second successive year after being drawn against Dynamo Kiev in the knockout stages. Now UEFA surprisingly changed their decision and allowed supporters to attend the game.
Around 100 national umbrella organisations of football supporters, national team supporter organisations and club-based fan groups from 18 countries across Europe representing 100,000 of football fans, have jointly published an open letter to the Executive Committee members of UEFA. Whilst they all welcome the change of the UEFA decision in the above case as a step into the right direction, it once again highlights an integral issue with the UEFA disciplinary regulations on racist conduct of supporters. This is why the supporters groups are calling for a thorough structural review of the UEFA policy of collective punishments for racist conduct, and in particular immediately to abolish the regulations leading to exclusion of innocent away supporters.
Together with the other signatories, the Committee of Football Supporters Europe (FSE) wholeheartedly supports this initiative. Find the open letter and the list of signatories in the following:
“Dear UEFA Executive Committee members,
We’re addressing you from across Europe to highlight our grave concerns and to call for UEFA to reconsider its disciplinary policy when dealing with racist or otherwise discriminatory conduct by supporters.
Firstly we stress that the signatories of this open letter explicitly welcome the “zero tolerance policy” of UEFA with regards to racism. The signatory supporter groups and UEFA are united in the belief that respecting each other should be an integral part of football’s core values. This should apply to all, on and off the pitch.
However, collective punishment of all a club’s fans for the despicable actions of a minority through measures such as “matches behind closed doors” as a standard sanction for racist conduct by supporters, illustrates great disrespect for the fans innocently affected by such a drastic measure. This is particularly true for the away fans who haven’t done anything wrong, many of whom will have booked unrefundable travel. They are paying the highest price for a sanction imposed by UEFA on a different club for the conduct of a different fanbase altogether.
Sanctioning disrespect and unacceptable behaviour of what is usually a small group without respect towards the entire crowd is putting the credibility of UEFA’s commitment against racism at great risk. Those who could be UEFA’s greatest and biggest group of allies in the fight against discrimination in football – supporters, so often called the “lifeblood of the game” – are degraded as all being the offenders when thousands are innocent of doing any wrong.
Against this background, we urge you to amend the appropriate regulations towards a system which can credibly and sustainably help to minimise discrimination whilst respecting the interests of supporters as a major stakeholder. We should all want to encourage constructive fans behaviour in football – rather than weakening positive commitment among fans and supporting the development of destructive behaviour, triggered by the current system, and further underlined by official incident figures.
At the European Football Fans’ Congress of Football Supporters Europe (FSE) 2015 in Belfast, supporters demonstrated with many concrete examples that the current system of collective sanctions not only leads to the punishment of primarily innocent fans. It also DOES NOT reach the desired goal of substantially eradicating racism and forcing clubs into taking sustainable action, ideally with support of their fans.
Especially those “usual suspects” among clubs for which the regulations were tightened in the first place, have developed three main forms of reaction:
1. They blame the messenger (the anti-racist monitor of the incident or fan groups active against racism inside the stadium) or UEFA, including public witch hunts against them whilst still not acknowledging the actual problem
>>> empowers the racist perpetrators who are happy to join the race baiting
2. Many have tried to made secret deals with the respective (racist) part of their fanbase to “keep their feet still” at European matches whilst they increased the privileges for them in the league competition
>>> empowers the racist perpetrators as it drives them closer to the club whilst other fans are further marginalised
3. The club relocates the fans to other parts of the ground and arranged some window dressing activities against racism whilst selling them in public as fan-driven
>>> the racists are still inside the stadium and perform racist acts, just in a different area – non-racist/anti-racist fans don’t feel safe and empowered to initiate their own activities
What has hardly happened since sanctions began is clubs standing up and implementing credible long-term action plans against racism, empowering the majority of non-racist and progressive sections of the fanbase who are not opposed or would even like to actively support the fight against discrimination. Instead they are repeatedly punished alongside with the racist perpetrators, ignoring too whether or not they might be even victims and intimidated by these people..
As a consequence of this, several supporter organisations have initiated the campaign “Respect Fans!“. This has been endorsed by numerous fan groups from different clubs playing in European competitions. To date, non-racist/anti-racist fan groups from about twenty clubs from seven European countries have supported the initiative. The European supporter umbrella organisation Football Supporters Europe (FSE), officially recognized by UEFA as interlocutor on fan issues, has held discussions on several occasions with UEFA representatives about the issue and submitted proposals for alternatives or complementary elements to the current system. These have been drawn up on the basis of best practice examples and scientific evidence from across Europe.
So far, UEFA as an institution hasn’t been willing to listen It has merely agreed with denying the right for sponsors to attend matches behind closed doors, to, but only after the renewal of respective contracts in a few years’ time.
We believe that the social responsibility of football – even more so of the football governing bodies – in this important area should go beyond seeking to produce artificially acceptable or superficial images for television or a wider public, but to make a sustainable contribution towards truly eradicating the problem of discrimination in the game at the club level directly.
Our experiences from different countries illustrate in practice, that a sustainable improvement of supporter behaviour can only be achieved in close cooperation with them. The current system designed to step up the fight against racism, however, is more and more seen as an attack on all fans.
The signatories of this letter are supporter groups and national umbrella organisations of fans who share opposition to racism and discrimination and want to invite UEFA in this spirit, to take up the fight against discrimination and other forms of unacceptable conduct together. We call upon UEFA to review the policy of collective punishments, and in particular to abolish immediately the glaring injustice of the exclusion of away supporters who had nothing to do with the punishable incident.
As a next step, effective strategies should be developed in close consultation with the supporters that can eradicate racism not just from pictures or TV footage from stadia at European matches but can also trigger positive change in the minds of the people there.
We are looking forward to your early response.
The members of the Committee of Football Supporters Europe (FSE)
The RESPECT FANS! Campaigning Groups”
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