For a few years now My Old Man Said (MOMS)has been a member of Football Supporters Europe (FSE). The FSE is made up of supporter groups, ultra groups and fan organisations to act upon issues in modern football such as ticketing, fan culture, discrimination and policing in football and encourages football fans as key stakeholders to speak up with a powerful and united voice within the structures of the game.
For four days in July last year, MOMS went to the FSE’s European Fans’ Congress in Belfast (you may have seen the photos from there on our instagram account) and one of the most interesting workshop discussion was one tackling UEFA’s mass punishments (i.e. playing games behind closed doors as punishment to fans) chaired by our buddies from Manchester, the 1894 Group (Manchester City fans), which also had an ex-member of UEFA on the panel.
It was decided in Belfast to send a collective letter from European supporters to UEFA during the latest Champions League.
A photo posted by My Old Man Said (Aston Villa) (@myoldmansaid) on
In recent times such punishments have been used as a measure to punish in-stadium racism (especially in Russia and the Ukraine). Manchester City fans have been inconvenienced recently after their game against Dynamo Kiev was played behind closed doors due to a punishment dealt out to to a section of Kiev fans, who were guilty of racist activity.
The problem is why should both City and the majority of Kiev fans suffer due to the actions of a minority group? Especially when you consider City fans had already brought flights and booked hotels for the game.
Villa’s Mass Punishment
Aston Villa fans are no stranger to such a punishment, we received it after the mass crowd disturbances (it kicked-off big time) during Villa’s European Cup semi-final against Anderlecht in April 1982. UEFA’s punishment meant Villa had to play the first game of their defence of the European Cup behind closed doors at an empty Villa Park.
You can understand why the punishment was ordained by UEFA due to the hostile nature of events, but what about the away Besiktas fans or the other Villa fans, who wanted to see the game? They weren’t in Belgium that evening, so why did they have to suffer too?
It was because of Villa’s European Cup winning legacy that MOMS was invited to sign the below letter to UEFA. The club’s European adventures may currently be on hold due to the current Villa board, but it’s nice for Villa fans to still be thought of on the European stage.
FSE RELEASE & UEFA LETTER
100,000s of supporters from across Europe address UEFA in Open Letter
Around 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 Kiev 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) / MY OLD MAN SAID wholeheartedly supports this initiative. Find the open letter and the list of signatories in the following:
Dear members of the UEFA Executive Committee,
we’re hereby addressing you from across Europe to highlight our grave concerns and call for UEFA to reconsider its disciplinary policy for racist or otherwise discriminatory conduct of supporters.
It needs to be stressed in advance 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 the core values in our game – and this should apply to all actors, on and off the pitch.
The punishment of a vast majority of fans for the despicable actions of a minority through measures such as „matches behind closed doors” as standard sanction for incidents of racist conduct of supporters, however, illustrate a great level of disrespect for the fans innocently affected by such a drastic measure. Particularly the away fans who haven’t done anything wrong and had booked all their travel already are those 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 usually a small group with disrespect 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, the football supporters as the often quoted “lifeblood of the game”, are degraded to all being solely the root cause of a problem.
Against this background, we urge you to amend the respective regulations towards a system which can credibly and sustainably help to minimise discrimination whilst respecting the interests of supporters as 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:
- 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
à empowers the racist perpetrators who are happy to join the race
- 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
à empowers the racist perpetrators as it drives them closer to the club whilst other fans are further marginalised
- The club relocated the fans to other parts of the ground and arranged some window dressing activities against racism whilst selling them in public as fan-driven
à 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 & empowered to initiate own activities
What has hardly happened since is that clubs have stood up and started to implement credible long-term action plans against racism, that would empower the majority of non-racist and progressive parts of the fanbase who are not opposed or would even like to support the fight against discrimination. Instead they are repeatedly punished alongside with the racist perpetrators, in ignorance of a potential context and whether or not they might be even victims and intimidated by these people, too.
As a consequence of this, several supporter organisations have initiated the campaign “Respect Fans!“ which has been endorsed by numerous fan groups from different clubs playing in European competitions. To date, non-racist/anti-racist fan groups from about 20 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 several talks with UEFA representatives about the issue and submitted several proposals for alternatives or complementary elements to the current system that had been drawn up on the basis of best practice examples and scientific evidence from across Europe.
So far, UEFA wasn’t willing to listen and merely agreed with denying the right for sponsors to attend matches behind closed doors, too….but just 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 TV 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 a fight against all fans.
The signatories of this letter are supporter groups and national umbrella organisations of fans who share the 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 immediately to abolish 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 hearing from you soonest
The members of the Committee of Football Supporters Europe (FSE)
The RESPECT FANS! Campaigning Groups
See next page for the full list of supporter groups and organisations