However, is it possible while attempting to set an example, they could actually be making things harder for themselves and setting precedents which will be impossible to uphold.
There have been numerous instances so far in the first week of the championships which have proved uncomfortable for UEFA on several levels, and it is apparent that while some instances of crowd misbehaviour are obvious, others are extremely hard to police.
After Friday’s group A game against the Czech’s, the Russian Football Union was fined €120,000 for what was described by UEFA as the “violent, offensive and unsafe behaviour” of their fans. This is even before we take into account incidents which occurred during their game against Poland on Tuesday, which UEFA will investigate over the weekend.
More worryingly for the RFS though, is the suspended six point penalty which is hanging over their heads should a similar incident happen again in the qualifiers leading up to Euro 2016. Although football associations can not be held responsible for events which take place outside of the stadiums, they do have an obligation to ensure that supporters who are buying tickets to watch
their teams play do so in a way which is now socially acceptable.
The violence which we saw on Tuesday before the Poland game has been condemned as being provoked by Polish supporters. How Russian fans marching through the centre of the Polish capital to celebrate Russia day could has not been seen as provocative is something which the authorities have not yet commented on.
Obviously retaliation should not be condemned, but Russian fans have been involved in some of the more unsavoury moments in the first week of the tournament.
Sadly, it looks like incidents of this nature could continue to mar the tournament, and while some will land the blame at UEFA’s feet for insisting on taking the tournament to nations with an undercurrent of violence and racism attached to their football psyche, it has also highlighted that the issue still needs progressive minds and plenty of hard work to eradicate these issues.
The problem of how hard the more subtle incidents are to police was highlighted when Italian coach Cesere Prandelli was unaware of the racial abuse a small section of the Spanish support inflicted on Mario Balotelli.
Balotelli has already stated that he would walk off the pitch if he had to endure racial taunting, and it seems like a minority of Spain fans thought they could get him out of the game this way. If he was aware, then he certainly didn’t let it show.
It is testimony to the majority of the Spanish fans in the surrounding area that they were able to stop the abuse, and also reported it. Self policing is one of the major ways in which this sort of behaviour will be eradicated.
Spanish fans have also come under the spotlight leading up to this tournament, and UEFA have been criticised for the lenient stance they have previously taken. It is possible that following the sanction handed down to the Russian federation, the Spanish may also feel more of UEFA’s wrath, but taking the issue in the manner the Spanish did is a positive for them.
Do UEFA need outside help?
The flip side of handing out sanctions which actually affect a teams participation in a tournament is that it can be manipulated. It is for this reason that actions taken outside of the football arena can not be attributed to a specific football authority. Just because a person has a particular teams shirt on doesn’t mean that they are in any way affiliated.
If supporters of rival teams manage to get into the ground, unfurl banners, cause trouble, abuse players it could be seen as a way of inflicting a punishment on a rival which is not deserved. If a precedent is set which does eliminate a team because of something which happens off the field, the legal minefield could be disastrous for all concerned.
What we have seen so far in Poland and Ukraine is that there are still social issues which are affecting many countries across the continent and this tournament has brought them again to the front of people’s attention.
Football has long been seen as a forum to resurrect tribal rivalries and long standing historical hatreds. When large groups come together there will always be an element of the unsavoury, but this tournament has illustrated that it has nowhere near been eradicated.
UEFA have now made a stance, and if this is to continue then it will make football in Europe a better spectacle. It was a brave decision to take the tournament there in this climate.
Large tournaments have occurred in that part of the world previously but the world has changed. International football tournaments are now seen as a way for the game to grow, and the unsavoury side of the game which has been bubbling under the surface is surprising for many of the billions of armchair fans who have no interest in the past, or the history of the competing nations.
If it happens, and UEFA do sanction a nation for a non football related incident, it will send shockwaves around the footballing community.
UEFA have to have support of governments to do this, as this shouldn’t be a football problem, it is a social problem, and UEFA does not determine the laws of the land. These are illegal activities which need eradicating from all aspects of society. It needs more than a sporting body to take a stance.
UEFA may at last be taking the issue as seriously as it is seen in society as a whole. It is now up to governments to keep the pressure on and ensure that anything UEFA hands out is backed up with custodial and legal support, but at the same time the teams involved need to be kept on the pitch and continue to play their sport.
image: © klearchos