Since November last year when a Deportivo La Coruna fan lost his life after a fight with Atletico Madrid Ultras, the LFP have been on a crusade to stamp out violence, both physical and verbal. At first many thought that the crackdown was just another gesture and few believed that the authorities would deliver on their promises.
But, as time passes, the LFP has not backed down. Many feel they have gone overboard. Others want to know exactly what procedure the League is following. This week the LFP released a statement in clarification.
“The LFP has indicated its unquestionable determination to implement a policy of zero tolerance for any type of violent behaviour in our sport,” read the first point in a statement which had a by-line announcing its objection to ‘violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport.’
One might ask why is the LFP making this statement now. Surely the logical thing would have been to have made such a declaration before sanctioning teams, not months after doing so? Well, Spain is different.
At first the LFP announced it was coming down on Ultras and their symbols. Then chanting was targeted and rightly so in some cases. But there seems to be some confusion about what the LFP considers abusive and not. Whilst there are no doubts to what is considered racist, homophobic and xenophobic, what exactly is considered intolerant is another thing.
Clubs have been brought up on charges for when their fans have chanted about players been drunkards or having affairs. Other clubs are facing the League to answer claims that their fans described another club in profane terms. Whilst it may not be pleasant for the player or the fans involved, is it really that abusive? Many Spaniards think it isn’t and the language that is being used is typical to what someone would hear on the street or say to friends and in those cases, no offence is taken.
Last weekend Football Espana interviewed one of Rayo Vallecano’s Ultras. The topic of chanting was brought up. The Bukaneros first welcomed and applauded the League’s crackdown on racial and homophobic chanting. Yet, they are slightly worried.
Anybody that has ever been to Vallecas will have heard the famous chant ‘A las armas’ which translates to ‘To Arms’. It is a chant to get things going and it ends with all sides (the three sides) chanting various parts. Last week one Bukanero said that under the new rules, nobody at the club knew if the chant is now considered abusive. Of course, the chant is not literally calling for fans to pick up weapons, but under the LFP guidelines, it may be considered violent and this is just one example.
Other clubs have similar chants and like Rayo, they’re confused. If someone sang La Marseillaise would they be punished? Nobody knows. So how does one decide what is abusive and not?
The LFP said in their statement that they will collect information via television, social networking sites and also though email. Fans who have witnessed abusive behaviour are now encouraged to contact the League and report it. This is a big step because in the past, anybody who contacted them to report such things was simply ignored.
The evidence is then evaluated and unless it is conclusive the complaint is withdrawn. With no clear evidence, nothing can be done but should it be conclusive the LFP will pass everything they have over to the Comite de Competicion de la Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol [Competition Committee of the Royal Spanish Football Federation] and the Comision Permanente de la Comision Estatal contra la Violencia, el Racismo, la Xenofobia y la Intolerancia en el Deporte [The Permanent Commission of the State Commission against Violence, Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Sport].
In theory it all sounds good but remember the LFP and RFEF enjoy a frosty relationship and we may see the Spanish FA ruling against the League just to be petty.
There have been allegations that the LFP have been selective when gathering evidence. The final points of their statement try to clarify this. The most important type of evidence is of course video evidence but with coverage of games only starting minutes before and finishing minutes after games, should any abuse take place outside the 90 minutes of a match, it is hard to prosecute.
It is strange that the League would admit such a thing. It is almost as if they are saying to supporters, abuse each other as much as you want before and after the game but when the cameras are rolling, play nice.
“Finally, to reiterate our commitment to the eradication of all forms of violent behaviour in football both physical and verbal continues through using all the media at our disposal,” reads the final lines of the statement. A few weeks ago an English newspaper praised the League’s new approach but it is hard not to think that they may have bitten off more than they can chew. Right now the League is trying to sort out the broadcasting rights for next season, two match fixing scandals, violence at grounds and now chanting.
Whilst abusive chanting needs to be stamped out, maybe it would have been better to tackle all the problems individually instead of the ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ approach. It is too late for that now. One can only hope that the League is successful and doesn’t cut corners, because all the topics on the table are important and they all need to be resolved and done so wholeheartedly.
Papering over the cracks will only see the walls crash down one day and so no matter what the short term damage may be, it will be better in the long run for everyone. As always in these situations, the answer of how it will all pan out will only come with time.