Credit: Sandro Schuh via Unsplash

Should teams be responsible for the misdemeanours of their fans?

By Melanie Goldberg

Melanie Goldberg explores the controversy surrounding the fining of the Scottish football team after fans booed the Israeli national anthem.

At the beginning of November, FIFA fined the Scottish football team as retribution for their fans booing the Israeli national anthem. The fine was imposed due to an alleged breach of FIFA policy stating that promoting certain political statements unrelated to the sport can induce a fee, as it disturbs the integrity of the match and the players.

That said, FIFA does not exactly have a strong moral character. Considering the controversy that they have faced for their choice of host countries, policies towards women’s football and claims of corruption, are their stringent rules disproportionately applied in regards to the teams themselves? The international organisation has consistently faced criticism for their choice of host countries, most notably Brazil, Russia, and Qatar. A recent Human Rights Watch report exposed the extreme levels of exploitation that migrant workers in Qatar face, particularly those involved in building infrastructure for the World Cup. The 2018 Games were similarly plagued by concerns over workers’ rights, but also over Russia’s reputation of racism, homophobia and restrictions on freedom of speech.

There is not much debate on the importance of protest as a basic human right. There has been a crackdown in protest recently in both UK and Scottish law, which has been particularly worrying. We need to defend the right to protest lest we, as a society, descend into autocracy. However, whilst protest is a fundamental right, was this particular protest “fair”? Is holding those of a certain nationality to account for the woes of their government enshrined in this right, or does this border on discrimination? Is the Brazilian team held responsible for Jair Bolsonaro and the fact that his extreme-right government is decimating the Amazon at an unprecedented rate? Is the Turkish team held responsible for their government’s oppression of Kurds? If the answer is yes, then campaign until your heart’s content, knowing that it is an equitable one. If the answer is no, then why just Israel?

Opposing government officials and representatives is a different kettle of fish from targeting citizens of a state. Many do argue though that Israel should cease to exist and that the country itself is an illegitimate one and so, to protest their national anthem wouldn’t be out of character. From an anarchist point of view, every state is treated equally in their evaluation, as illegitimate. However, the same people fighting for Palestinian self-determination who believe the only way to do so is by erasing any existence of Israel are hypocritical. It’s not uncommon in many left-wing and activist circles for most, if not all, to believe Israel does not have a right to exist. However, one would be hard-pressed to find the same rhetoric applied to Pakistan, also a relatively new country and which during its “founding”, witnessed the deaths of an estimated 1 million and displacement of 14 million. There need not be any competition amongst humanitarian issues; every one of the 750,000 displaced Palestinians deserved better and so did each of the 10 million Indians, Pakistanis etc. However, focusing a disproportionate amount of activism on Israel and Palestine delegitimises the fight for justice, for all.

Generally, should teams be responsible for the misdemeanours of their fans? Where is the individual culpability? Principally, teams should have a collective responsibility for the actions of their fans. However, individuals also have a personal responsibility for their own actions. Whether it be FIFA, or any other sporting body for that matter, allowing breaches of their regulations to continue with impunity, only encourages further transgressions. Disciplining a team without trying to address the wider issues is like putting a plaster on a wound; temporary and inconsistent.


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