FIFA Keeping Punishments to a Minimum at World Cup
Despite bringing the might of FIFA discipline down on Luis Suarez for biting an opponent, football’s governing body has let plenty of other incidents go unpunished at the World Cup.
Apparent offenses on and off the pitch - from elbowing an opponent’s face to fans displaying far-right banners - have prompted no action from the FIFA Disciplinary Committee.
The panel decided not to charge France defender Mamadou Sakho for his raised left elbow which struck Ecuador’s Oswaldo Minda, though it had the same type of video evidence used to ban Suarez for nine Uruguay matches and four months. Intent - was it clear the player intended to injure the victim? - is crucial in these decisions.
Despite FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s pledge of a World Cup which would not tolerate discrimination, fans have chanted gay slurs, worn blackface make-up and brought recognized neo-Nazi symbols into stadiums.
No disciplinary cases are currently open for those reported incidents, FIFA said Saturday.
"I think the disciplinary committee takes seriously its task," FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said. "They are looking at everything provided to them."
That included video of Sakho appearing to connect with Minda, which went unpunished by referee Noumandiez Doue of Ivory Coast.
Sakho acknowledged the incident though said he did not act with malice.
"The referee took his decision and I respect his choice," Sakho said after match. "It’s true that I’m a tough player but I respect my opponents."
The timing of the incident suggested the France player would face action: The day after the Suarez case, and two days after FIFA’s chief medical officer said dangerous use of an elbow had been almost eliminated since being made a red-card offense in 2006.
"This more or less disappeared and the referees are instructed accordingly," Jiri Dvorak told reporters at a briefing.
In just one case has FIFA sanctioned any of the 32 participating national federations, which are responsible for the behavior of fans.
Chile’s federation was fined 1,000 Swiss francs ($1,120) after supporters broke through the Maracana Stadium security fences before a match against Spain. The fine was among the smallest FIFA has levied in recent years. The minimum fine permitted by the disciplinary code is 300 Swiss francs ($338).
As the Chilean fans’ rampage came through the Maracana media center, it was filmed, photographed and reported by international media, providing an instant body of evidence.
In other cases, the disciplinary panel chaired by Claudio Sulser, a lawyer and former Switzerland forward, has worked with monitoring reports from not-for-profit fans’ groups and social media.
Several cases were forwarded to FIFA by Fare, the long-established fans’ network formerly known as Football Against Racism In Europe.
Fare reported that Mexican fans’ traditional chant of a gay slur at the opponent’s goalkeeper taking a goal kick was offensive. During Mexico’s second match against Brazil, the chant provoked the home nation’s fans to chant the slur back in retaliation.
The FIFA panel opened a disciplinary case but ruled it "is not considered insulting in this specific context."
That view was questioned by FIFA executive committee member Sunil Gulati, who as president of the U.S. Soccer Federation has heard the chant at World Cup qualifying matches over the years.
"It’s offensive, and in the year 2014, it’s inappropriate," said Gulati, while supporting FIFA and Blatter’s stated commitment to tackle such behavior. "They made a general statement about discrimination and all of those sorts of issues, which I fully agree with, which I think we all would agree with."
Fare also reported sightings of banners with far-right symbols brought to matches by fans of Croatia, Germany and Russia.
When Fare was invited by UEFA to send experienced monitors into stadiums at the 2012 European Championship, a string of similar cases were prosecuted within days. Fines were imposed of at least 20,000 euros ($27,300).
UEFA also fined its Euro 2012 member federations if fans invaded the pitch or set off flares and fireworks inside stadiums. Similar offenses at this World Cup have gone unpunished.
Still, the disciplinary panel might have earned a reputation for toughness solely for cracking down on Suarez.
Sulser’s only public comment during the World Cup came in a FIFA statement revealing the Uruguayan’s sanction.
"Such behavior cannot be tolerated on any football pitch and in particular not at a FIFA World Cup," Sulser said, "when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field."