How Does UK Human Rights Law Protect Football Players Like Raheem Sterling And Danny Rose From Racial Abuse?

By Jenn Selby, Freelance News Editor 26 Mar 2019

The England football team put on a striking performance during the Euro 2020 qualifier match against Montenegro in Podgorica on Monday.

The squad won a convincing 5-1, with Raheem Sterling scoring the final goal in the 81st minute.

Just six minutes into the match, however, BBC Radio 5 Live commentator Ian Dennis reported hearing racist abuse aimed at Tottenham left-back Danny Rose coming from Montenegro supporters in the stands.

The BBC also reports speaking to pitch-side photographers during the match, who labelled the abuse they heard hurled at black players “disgusting”.

After the match, England manager Gareth Southgate said that the incidents will be reported to UEFA.

Image credit: England manager Gareth Southgate/ Wikimedia

“There’s no doubt in my mind it happened,” he told BBC 5 Live. “I know what I heard. It’s unacceptable. We have to make sure our players feel supported, they know the dressing room is there and we as a group of staff are there for them.

“We have to report it through the correct channels. It is clear that so many people have heard it and we have to continue to make strides in our country and trust the authorities to take the right action.”

Meanwhile, Montenegro coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic claimed he did not “hear or notice any” racist abuse.

What Are Uefa Doing About It?

Because the incident happened at a stadium in Europe, the reporting body for abuse would be the Union of European Football Associations (Uefa).

The body has charged Montenegro for “racist behaviour”. The case will be handled by its governing body on 16 May

Montenegro also face other charges relating to crowd disturbances. These include the throwing of objects, setting off fireworks and the blocking of stairways of the stadium following the game.

Image credit: Montenegro fans circa 2011/Flickr

The minimum punishment from Uefa for an incident of racism is a partial stadium closure, which means they will only allow the venue to keep a certain number of seats available to fans for proceeding games.

A second offence results in one match being played without being broadcast and a fine of 50,000 euros (£42,500).

Uefa rules add: “Any subsequent offence is punished with more than one match behind closed doors, a stadium closure, the forfeiting of a match, the deduction of points and/or disqualification from the competition.”

Danny Rose was subject to racist abuse when he played for the England Under 21 squad against Serbia in 2012. The Serbian FA was fined £65,000 and their under 21s squad was forced to play behind closed doors.

What Laws Protect Players From Racial Abuse In The UK?

Article 14 of the Human Rights Act 1998 states that all the rights and freedoms afforded to individuals by the Act must be protected and applied without discrimination.

Discrimination arises when someone is treated less fairly than another person in a similar situation without reasonable justification. It can also occur if you are disadvantaged by being treated the same as another person despite having different circumstances (for example if someone is pregnant or disabled).

Under the Act, it is illegal to discriminate against someone on grounds including gender, race, colour, language, religion, national or social origin, property, place of birth, and more.

Football clubs are not covered by the Human Rights Act because they are not public authorities, however the police (who are present at many football matches) are. The Government also has a duty under the Human Rights Act to ensure that criminal and regulatory laws adequately protect people’s rights, and therefore must ensure that the system as a whole protects people against racist abuse

Image credit: Danny Rose/ Wikimedia

Meanwhile, any abusive or threatening language directed against an individual who is classified under the The Equality Act 2010 as having a protected characteristic – like race – could be considered a hate crime.

The Equality Act doesn’t apply to individuals at football matches but it does apply to football clubs as service providers, so they have a responsibility to ensure football grounds are safe places for people of different races or other ‘protected characteristics’.

What Is A Hate Crime Defined As?

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, the term ‘hate crime’ can be used to describe a “range of criminal behaviour where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or demonstrates hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.”

These different aspects that make up a person’s identity are known as ‘protected characteristics’.

Behaviours that constitute a hate crime under UK law include verbal abuse, threats, harassment, bullying, assault, intimidation and damage to property – like graffiti.

Incitement to hatred of individuals with protected characteristics is also a hate crime.

How Does UK Law Respond To Perpetrators Of Hate Crimes?

According to the  Law Commission, the law responds to hate crime in the following ways:

  • Additional ‘aggravated’ offences with longer sentences in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 if an offender demonstrated hostility or was motivated by hostility based on race or religion.
  • Prohibiting conduct that is likely to stir up hatred on grounds of race, or intended to do so on grounds of religion or sexual orientation in the Public Order Act 1986.
  • Enhanced sentencing under sections 145 and 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 if hostility is motivated by any of the five protected characteristics.
  • The provision of Sentencing guidelines. Section 125(1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 requires that a sentencing judge must follow any sentencing guideline which is relevant to their case. This includes, for example, consideration of whether the offence was motivated by racial or religious hostility, or if it was motivated by or demonstrated hostility towards the victim based on one or more characteristics such as the victims’ age, sex, gender identity (or presumed gender identity), disability (or presumed disability) or sexual orientation.

It is scheduled to start consulting on whether hate crime legislation should be extended this year.

Do Football Clubs Have Their Own Initiatives To Tackle Racial Abuse?

The FA has strict guidelines on how to deal with any abusive incidents that happen within professional football grounds in the UK and a reporting procedure.

The association also has a number of initiatives aimed at making football more inclusive. This includes a drive for more BAME coaches and members of football boards, as well as encouraging women to take up key positions at club management level.

Third party organisation Kick It Out has been active for more than 20 years.

Working in partnership with the 92 professional clubs in the Premier League and English Football League, grassroots and community clubs across the country and within the education sector, its aim is to make football more inclusive. It receives and deals with reports of discrimination directly too.

Featured image credit: Raheem Sterling/Wikimedia