Misconduct by Club Officials in Football: Sanctions for Directors

Emotions sometimes run high around sports competitions. Not only with players or supporters, but also with club officials. In Greece, a few years ago, an armed club official stormed onto the field to influence an arbitral decision. The e most famous example now would however be the reported misconduct by PSG-president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and director Leonardo. Reportedly, they stormed into the referee’s dressing room after the game, demanding entrance and breaking an assistant referee’s flag. Moreover, Al-Khelaifi is alleged to have threatened to kill a Real Madrid employee. UEFA has now launched an investigation into this conduct.

In that light it is interesting to find out what kind of punishment club directors risk for such misconduct. It is widely known that players and even coaching staff can be sanctioned with a red card, even after the match, risking a suspension. In this blog I will dive a little deeper into the sanctions for club officials, such as the PSG directors.

The Rules

In order to assess whether and what extent the UEFA can act against misconduct, is laid down in the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations. These apply to the behavior of players, supporters, associations and also club officials. As we are looking at directors, we will focus on this last category of club officials.

According to the  (art. 3 paragraph 1 sub b UEFA Disciplinary Regulations) club officials are “all persons assigned by a club to exercise a function”. Thus, club directors fall within the scope of the these rules as they are assigned by the club to perform a management function.

General Principles of Conduct

First of all, misconduct by club officials will be governed by the general rules of conduct, laid down in article 11 of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations

Member associations and clubs, as well as their players, officials and members, and all persons assigned by the UEFA to exercise a function, must respect the Laws of the Game, as well as UEFA's Statutes, regulations, directives and decisions, and comply with the principles of ethical conduct, loyalty, integrity and sportsmanship.

Article 11 UEFA Disciplinary Regulations

For example , a breach of these principles is committed by anyone:

  • Whose conduct is insulting or otherwise violates the basic rules of decent conduct
  • whose conduct brings the sport football and UEFA in particular in disrepute;
  • Who does not comply with instructions given by match officials.

I don’t think it needs much explanation that the reported actions of the owner/CEO of PSG are in violation of the aforementioned provisions. Assaulting the dressing room of the referee does not meet the rules of decent conduct.

Such misconduct by club officials discredits UEFA and their matches. In addition, the referee (a match official) has requested to leave the locker room, or at least to leave. It appears from various reports in the media that the club officials did not comply with these requests.

Sanctions for misconduct by club officials

Such misconduct by club officials as expressed by the PSG-directors, will thus likely be in violation of Article 11 UEFA Disciplinary Regulations. As a consequence this misconduct will be punishable with disciplinary measures (art. 11 (3) UEFA Disciplinary Regulations). Article 6 provides for these disciplinary measures, both for clubs and individuals.

The group of individuals, which also includes the directors of PSG, can be punished, among other things, with a warning, fine, suspension, exclusion from the performance of a certain functions or a ban on continuing to perform football-related activities.

Specifically for attacking a referee, Article 15 provides a more specific penalty for the UEFA Competitions. Which can be further increased for all competitions. 

Suspension for fifteen competition matches for assaulting a match official

Article 15 (1) (h)

In this case, I wouldn’t be surprised if the punishment will be even more severe. These are directors with an exemplary function. They took advantage of their position to reportedly get to the referee’s dressing room and attack the referees.

Next to the assault of the referees, PSG’s CEO Al-Khelaifi is even said to have made death threats to a Real Madrid employee. In addition to being particularly inappropriate, potentially leading to a more severe sanction, death threads could also lead to criminal prosecution in many legal systems.

Sanctions for clubs

Not only individuals can be punished. A club can also be punished. This will often involve misconduct by supporters or other unsafe situations in stadiums. In this case, a connection may be sought with the latter. The reported misconduct by club officials lead to an unsafe situation for the referees. Although the match was not played at the PSG stadium, the reported unsafe situation was caused by PSG representatives. Hence, PSG may be penalized as sanctions can also be imposed for the behavior of away-supporters.

Article 16, which concerns order and safety, stipulates that clubs are responsible for all kinds of safety situations. In this provision, UEFA has included a kind of safety net provision for “any other lack of order and discipline observed in or around the stadium”. When a club manager is able to assault a referee’s dressing room to seek redress, that may be qualified as a security situation for which the club is responsible. A club may however be exempted when it can demonstrate that it has not been negligent. For me that seems unlikely in this situation where the threats came from the club management itself.

In addition, the violations of Article 11 may also be imputed to the club itself. After all, it is about the behavior of a representative of the club. The club may also be punished on that ground.

Penalties that can be imposed on a club include a warning, fine, points deduction for a current or future competition or even exclusion from a future competition (Article 6(1) UEFA Disciplinary Regulations). Serious violations could also affect the license and there are provisions about registering a smaller number of players.

Similar situations

Fortunately, there are hardly any examples of a comparable situations of misconduct by club officials. Only one similar situation comes to my mind., a situation I mentioned before concerning the Greek competition. In that case the owner the Greek football club POAK van Savvidis invaded the pitch to have an arbitral decision reversed. While entering the pitch Savvidis was visibly carrying a gun in a holster attached to his trousers. From what can be found, this owner would have been suspended for 3 years. The club would also have been deducted points. It is true that an appeal has been lodged against this, but I am not aware of any outcome.

What to expect with PSG?

Although the Greek case was a case under the rules of the Greek Football Association, I would not be surprised if similar sanctions will be imposed on PSG and its directors. Although one should be aware that first the misconduct by club officials should be proven. However, if it is correct that the referee has drawn this up in his official report and the assault is possibly filmed, it would be hard to rebut the accusations.

Another sanction which can be imposed and which you don’t hear of often is “community football service”. Under this sanction I understand that the punished individual must commit himself to a football-related community service. This strikes me as a proper sanction to be applied in a broad range of  cases, in addition to any suspensions or fines. I believe that a rich club official is more affected by such community service than by the maximum fine of EUR 100,000.

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