Sports Legal Blog


Sports have a unique way of bringing different groups of people and communities together. Sport has been identified by the United Nations as an important contributor to the realization of development and peace goals, in the way it promotes tolerance and respect;  the contribution it makes to empowering women, young people and communities; and to health, education and social inclusion objectives.

June 30, 2020

Steven Chiuri

Image courtesy of Sky Sports


Sports have a unique way of bringing different groups of people and communities together. Sport has long been seen by the United Nations as an important contributor to the realization of development and peace goals. Sports promotes tolerance and respect; the contribution it makes to empowering women, young people and communities; and to health, education and social inclusion objectives. For example, it was estimated that the 2018 World Cup was watched by 3.572 billion people with which it was broadcast live in every territory worldwide.The 2016 Rio Olympics drew in an audience of 3.6 billion viewers which highlights the sheer global impact sport has. This article seeks to highlight the role of sports and governance as tool of social change and inclusion in the fight against racism and the prevalent systemic injustice.

Recently after the death of an American George Floyd, there was a global outcry after a long consistent battle of racial injustice, towards the ethnic minority which led to global popularization of a movement “Black Lives Matter”(BLM). The BLM is an organized movement that initially stood for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against alleged incidents of police brutality against Afro-American people.The Black Lives Matter movement is now committed to struggling together, to imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive wherever they are.

Global sporting organizations from FIFA, Union of European Football Association (UEFA), Premier League, German FA, National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Football League (NFL) released statements acknowledging their support for the movement, consistent with their zero-tolerance towards racism and any form of discrimination.

The Premier league issued a statement that allowed the players to have their names replaced by “Black Lives Matter” on the back of their shirts for the first 12 matches of the restarted 2019/20 season. The statement was, We, the Players, stand together with the singular objective of eradicating racial prejudice wherever it exists, to bring about a global society of inclusion, respect, and equal opportunities for All, regardless of their colour or creed. This symbol is a sign of unity from all Players, all Staff, all Clubs, all Match Officials and the Premier League #blacklivesmatter #playerstogether.”

The English Football Association(FA) and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Charity in 2018, introduced a scheme BAME(Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) designed to increase the visibility of BAME coaches across all English teams and bring to the fore the coaching talent pool amongst black and minority ethnic coaches.  Recently, the Premier League, English Football League and Professional Footballers’ Association announced a new scheme to promote  and enhance the (BAME) program.  The aim is to help BAME players move into full-time coaching roles in the professional game which will be implemented from the start of 2020/2021 season and will give six coaches a 23-month work placement at EFL clubs per campaign. The BAME scheme is an affirmative action program meant to provide opportunities for the ethnic minority communities in football.



However, some of the press release statements by these organizations are simply a knee jerk reaction to circumstances surrounding the 2020 BLM movements. In 2016, an American football player Colin Kaepernick during the 49ers’ (NFL) third pre-season game, Kaepernick sat during the playing of the U.S. national anthem prior to the game as a protest against racial injustice, police brutality and systematic oppression in the country. He further explained that, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color, to me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder. This is not something that I am going to run by anybody and I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Kaepernick later began to kneel during the U.S anthem and his protests received polarized reactions from different factions groups which resulted in a wider protest movement. The protests intensified after the USA President Donald Trump said that NFL owners should “fire” players who protest during the national anthem. This influenced Kaepernick contract situation and he became a free agent after the season, but later went on to be unsigned. Critics saw that the biasness towards Kaepernick was due to his political statement and concluded that, “it’s obvious Kaepernick is being frozen out for his political opinions”, calling it “extraordinary … that a player like him can’t find a team”, based on the observation that “no above-average quarterback has been unemployed nearly as long as Kaepernick this offseason.”

Kaepernick filed a grievance suit against the NFL, saying he had been retaliated against by the NFL owners for his political stance. Kaepernick withdrew the grievance suit after reaching a confidential settlement with the NFL.

After the protests of racial injustice that spread all over the USA in 2020, the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urged the NFL’s 32 franchises to sign Colin Kaepernick, that in the event if he does not find his way on an NFL roster this upcoming season, the league would welcome his insights to “help us and guide us and help us to make better decisions” on complex issues. Goodell admitted the league was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier” on racial injustice issues. The Kaepernick story highlights the inconsistencies of these organisations when it comes to fighting racism and systemic social injustice.

Currently, the National Football League lacks adequate rules and laws to deal with issues of racism and discrimination in the sport. The NFL currently has a policy called the, ‘Rooney Rule’ that requires a team to interview ethnic- minority candidates for a head-coaching job, general manager position, or other front-office position.


Union of European Football Association(UEFA)

UEFA describes racism as, “the belief in the superiority of a race, religion or ethnic group. It is most commonly expressed through less favourable treatment, insulting words or practices which cause disadvantage. It can occur intentionally, or through a lack of understanding and ignorance. It may manifest itself openly or covertly. It occurs at all levels of an industry or organisation – within football it may range from fans hurling racial abuse to exclusionary practices by governing bodies of all levels, clubs or other partners of the game.”

UEFA has Disciplinary Regulations that govern and address the issues of racism and discrimination. These regulations apply to all those who fall under UEFA’s jurisdiction on the day the alleged disciplinary offence is committed.

Article 14 of UEFA Disciplinary Regulations state that;

  1. Any person under the scope of Article 3 ( Jurisdiction of UEFA) who insults the human dignity of a person or group of persons on whatever grounds, including skin colour, race, religion or ethnic origin, incurs a suspension lasting at least ten matches or a specified period of time, or any other appropriate sanction;
  2.   If one or more of a member association or club’s supporters engage in the behaviour described in paragraph 1, the member association or club responsible is punished with a minimum of a partial stadium closure;
  3.  The following disciplinary measures apply in the event of recidivism-
    1. a second offence is punished with one match played behind closed doors and a fine of € 50,000;
    2. 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.

If the circumstances of the case require it, the competent disciplinary body may impose additional disciplinary measures on the member association or club responsible, such as the playing of one or more matches behind closed doors, a stadium closure, the forfeiting of a match, the deduction of points and/or disqualification from the competition.

The UEFA Executive Committee approved stricter sanctions against racist conduct which they include tougher sanctions to efficiently fight racist behaviour at football matches, in line with UEFA’s zero-tolerance policy. UEFA approved official guidelines to help match officials handle incidents of racism inside stadiums through a three-step procedure, the guidelines grant referees the power to initially halt play and, if the racist behaviour continues, abandon the match;

Step one
If the referee becomes aware of racist behaviour, or is informed of it by the fourth official, he will stop the game. He will then request an announcement to be made over the public address system asking spectators to immediately stop any racist behaviour.

Step two
If the racist behaviour does not cease after the game has restarted, the referee will suspend the match for a reasonable period of time, for example, five to ten minutes, and request teams to go to the dressing rooms. A further announcement is made over the public address system.

Step three
As a final resort, if the racist behaviour continues after a second restart, the referee can definitively abandon the match.

The UEFA delegate responsible for the match will assist the referee, through the fourth official, in determining whether the racist behaviour has ceased. Any decision to abandon the match will only be taken after all other possible measures have been implemented and the impact of abandoning the match on the security of the players and public has been assessed. After the match, the case is referred to UEFA’s disciplinary authorities.

Although this has been the latest protocol issued by the European chief governing body (UEFA), to tackle the issue of racism, it hasn’t quite been effective. The protocol was first used during the Bulgaria vs. England Euro 2020 qualifiers. The England national team which has a range of diverse sportsmen, were on the receiving end of racist chants, Nazi salutes and monkey chants aimed at them by Bulgarian fans.The three step protocol as evidenced in that game, highlighted the significant need for the protocol to be enhanced for it to be effective.



FIFA  recognises that it has a responsibility to lead the way in abolishing all forms of discrimination in football, but also to make the most of the influence football has beyond the pitch, thereby contributing to the fight against this scourge of society. FIFA’s position on the issue is unequivocal: there is no place for racism or for any other form of discrimination in football, as clearly described in the FIFA Statutes and several of FIFA’s regulations and codes.

Article 4 of FIFA Statutes state that, “Non-discrimination, equality and neutrality. Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”

Article 13 of FIFA Statutes on Discrimination provides that-

  • Any person who offends the dignity or integrity of a country, a person or group of people through contemptuous, discriminatory or derogatory words or actions (by any means whatsoever) on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, language, religion, political opinion, wealth, birth or any other status or any other reason, shall be sanctioned with a suspension lasting at least ten matches or a specific period, or any other appropriate disciplinary measure;
  •  If one or more of an association’s or club’s supporters engage in the behaviour described in paragraph 1, the association or club responsible will be subject to the following disciplinary measures;
    1. For a first offence, playing a match with a limited number of spectators and a fine of at least CHF 20,000 shall be imposed on the association or club concerned;
    2. For re-offenders or if the circumstances of the case require it, disciplinary measures such as the implementation of a prevention plan, a fine, a points deduction, playing one or more matches without spectators, a ban on playing in a particular stadium, the forfeiting of a match, expulsion from a competition or relegation to a lower division may be imposed on the association or club concerned.
    3. Individuals who have been the direct addressee of potential discriminatory behaviour may be invited by the respective judicial body to make an oral or written victim impact statement;
    4. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, if a match is abandoned by the referee because of racist and/or discriminatory conduct, the match shall be declared forfeited.

The match can be forfeited after the referee has applied the “three-step procedure” for such  incidents. It includes, requesting a public announcement to call for such behaviour to cease, suspending the match until it stops, and in critical scenarios, abandoning the match altogether. FIFA has a three-step procedure to deal with discriminatory incidents at FIFA competitions;

Stop the match. The referee may decide to stop the game so that a stadium announcement is made, urging the spectators to cease the discriminatory behaviour. The following stadium announcement explains the referee‘s decision and requests for the discriminatory incident to stop.

Suspend the match. If discriminatory behaviour continues once the game has resumed, the referee may instruct the teams to return to their dressing rooms for a reasonable amount of time and have the match suspended until the behaviour stops. The following stadium announcement explains the referee’s decision and requests for the discriminatory incident to stop.

Abandon the match. In a critical scenario, and following consultation with all relevant parties – including the team captains and security authorities – the referee is entitled to decide to abandon the game as a very last resort. The following stadium announcement explains the referee‘s decision and requests for the discriminatory incident to stop, in accordance with the instructions of the security personnel.

FIFA seeks to recognize and embrace its responsibility to lead the way in the global fight against discrimination in football. Striving to provide the appropriate framework for the eradication of discrimination throughout the football community that any form discrimination is not be tolerated in any form.


Sport has shown that it can be an avenue of social change that promotes participation, inclusion, human values, acceptance of rules, discipline, health promotion, non-violence, tolerance, gender equality, teamwork, among others. Sport and its development programs can become a powerful tool for education, development, learning and social transformation. These sporting organizations can influence the societal role of tackling of any form of discrimination. This can be seen through the positive steps of affirmative action that these  sporting organisations are taking. Such as, the Rooney Rule and the BAME scheme meant to give opportunities to ethnic minority groups in sports.

However, there’s more that can be done to strengthen existing protocols to ensure harsh stringent measures to deal with those who are found violating the integrity of the game. Understanding the importance of movements such as Black Lives Matter, create an avenue in which people of colour and ethnic minorities are treated with dignity and they receive humane treatment without any bias because of their skin-tone.

Recently during a Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnely Football club, a chartered private plane flew above the stadium with a banner attached to it written, “white lives matter”. This statement was condemned by both football clubs as it incited racism and made a mockery of the awareness the Premier League was trying to support, that Black Lives Matter. This shows that there’s a lot of work to be done to ensure inclusivity and non-discrimination in sports is kicked out.


  1.  ‘UN Recognises Role Of Sport In Achieving Sustainable Development’ (UN News, 2020)  accessed 22 June 2020
  2. ‘Football: 2018 World Cup Watched By Record 3.5 Billion People, Says Fifa’ (The Straits Times, 2020) < people-fifa accessed 11 June 2020
  3.  ‘Olympic Games: TV Viewership Worldwide 2016 | Statista’ (Statista, 2020) accessed 15 June 2020
  4. ‘What We Believe’ (Black Lives Matter, 2020) accessed 22 June 2020
  5.  Ibid, (n4)
  6. ‘Players’ Statement On Black Lives Matter’ (, 2020) accessed 15 June 2020
  7. ‘BAME COACH PLACEMENT PROGRAMME’ (, 2018)  accessed 1 July 2020
  8. Ibid, (n7)
  9.  Ibid, (n7)
  10. ‘Colin Kaepernick Explains Why He Sat During National Anthem’ (2020) accessed 22 June 2020
  11. Ibid,(n7)
  12.  ‘Trump Says NFL Should Fire Players Who Kneel During National Anthem’ (Los Angeles Times, 2017) accessed 22 June 2020
  13. Wagner K, ‘Colin Kaepernick Is Not Supposed To Be Unemployed’ (FiveThirtyEight, 2017) accessed 22 June 2020
  14.  Drapper K, and Belson K, ‘Colin Kaepernick And The N.F.L. Settle Collusion Case’ (, 2020) 22 June 2020
  15.  Ibid,(n14)
  16. BOOKER B, ‘NPR Choice Page’ (, 2020)   accessed 22 June 2020
  17.  Ibid,(n11)
  18. Carroll C, ‘What Is The Rooney Rule?’ (Sports Illustrated, 2018) 22 June 2020
  19.  UNITE AGAINST RACISM (2nd edn, 2005)  accessed 22 June 2020
  22.  ‘Empowering Referees To Act Against Racism: UEFA’S Three-Step Procedure Inside UEFA’ (, 2019) accessed 22 June 2020
  23. Anand A, ‘UEFA’s Three-Step Protocol Against Racism Has Its Merits, But Leaves Too Many Prickly Questions Unanswered – Firstpost’ (Firstpost, 2019) accessed 22 June 2020
  24. Diversity And Anti-Discrimination At FIFA (FIFA 2019) accessed 22 June 2020
  25.  Ibid, (n19)
  26. FIFA STATUTES. [PDF] ZURICH: FIFA. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2020].
  27. Ibid,(n21)
  28. Ibid, (n19)
  29.  Quinn B, ‘White Lives Matter’ Plane Organiser Says Police Have Offered Protection’ (the Guardian, 2020) – accessed 25 June 2020