The news that Chelsea have banned one supporter for life and five others for between one and two years for behavior relating to the abuse of Raheem Sterling at Stamford Bridge last December, whilst understandable is disappointing.
The Crown Prosecution Service stated in April that there was not enough evidence to prove racist abuse or public order offences. However, the Club have taken an alternative view, without the burden of proof needed to establish whether any criminal offences had occurred.
Abusive behaviour is abhorrent, whether in the febrile atmosphere of a football match or in society as a whole and racism is unequivocally no subject for semantics or ‘whataboutism’. The Chelsea Supporters’ Trust will always support the Club in taking action where racist abuse is proven.
However, the crux of this matter is that the Club are entitled to enforce any disciplinary action they deem fit if a supporter breaches their ticketing terms and conditions. Simply put, the club are not a public body and they can enact whatever policies they like in respect of supporters’ behaviour.
While we respect the Club’s right to do this, we do find their procedures troubling.
In the interests of fairness and natural justice, we believe there needs to be consistency and transparency around the Club’s banning procedures. Currently it seems that the Club are acting as ‘Judge and Jury’. When a supporter’s ability to support their team is at stake or worse, their employment and reputation, we believe it would be more equitable to use independent arbitration in the appeals process or an appeals committee independent from the Club.
Football, like society has changed. Clearly some behaviour is simply unacceptable at football in the modern age with violence and racist and abusive behaviour top of the list. Given what is potentially at stake for supporters, we believe the Club should make their policies relating to unacceptable behaviour and breaching conditions of ticket use far more accessible and visible than they currently are.
It would seem sensible for supporters to acquaint themselves with exactly what the club considers to be behaviour that would put you in breach of their conditions and lead to a ban. The Club’s policy document can be downloaded here.
We will continue to support the Club taking action against racist and abusive behaviour from both Chelsea supporters and supporters of all clubs, but we will also challenge the Club when we believe that their procedures and rationale for banning supporters is unfair.