|Hooligans among the Ukraine NT's supporters. Source: RIA Novosti|
The Ukraine and Peru national football teams have been forced to play their upcoming FIFA World Cup Qualifying games without the presence of supporters. FIFA's Disciplinary Committee cites reports of incidents involving pyrotechnics, plus various racist, discriminatory gestures, such as the display of neo-Nazi banners, during Ukraine's game with San Marino (9-1), and "crowd disturbance incidents" in Peru's game against Uruguay (1-2) to justify their decision. The lack of supporters in the stands will no doubt affect the run of play for both Ukraine and Peru's next qualifying games. As everyone knows, fan support is a significant factor in establishing an environment that motivates and encourages players to put on their best performance.
Even more disturbing was FIFA's decision to extend part of Ukraine's punishment (not playing any qualifiers at Lviv Arena) to the 2018 World Cup qualifying games. The FIFA committee's decision has distinct parallels with UEFA's actions against Metalist Kharkiv a few months ago, when the club was prevented from advancing to the 2013/14 Champions League play-off round due to alleged evidence of match-fixing of a 2008 Ukraine Premier League game against Karpaty Lviv. Both cases treat an isolated conflict as a whole - if supporters were unruly, why not ban all supporters? If a match was fixed, why not punish the entire club and players?
FIFA redefines and prides itself in taking the easy way out. It seems so much easier to blame an entire entity for a few hooligans who could have just as easily been escorted out of the stadium. The Disciplinary Committee is really an oxymoron. Instead of taking action against specific individuals, it creates the illusion that, with a flick of their magic wand, the larger problem - hooliganism - goes away.
In fact, this type of punishment will always have the opposite of the intended effect: it will not stop the hooligans from acting, nor will it stop them from existing. Rather, it shows that they can (and will) get away with what they set out to do, and while the national teams and disciplined supporters suffer, the perpetrators will remain untouched. It is hard to believe that there isn't photographic evidence and video footage available from both the Ukraine and Peru games that shows the exact persons involved in both incidents, just as it is hard to believe there wasn't any stadium security present that didn't witness the events.
It is against the virtue of justice itself that the many are punished for the actions of the few. Yet this notion is reinforced both in and outside of football, from grade school to adulthood, in Europe and the Americas. By making everyone but the hooligans feel shame and guilt, the people that would otherwise not have partaken in law-breaking in the first place are given a "warning". In the end it is nothing more than a "temporary fix" to keep the real law-breakers at bay.
According to FIFA, "should such incidents occur again, the FIFA Disciplinary Committee would be left with no other option than to impose harsher sanctions against these associations, which could go as far as a match forfeit, a points deduction or disqualification from a competition". But what do the federations - or, more importantly, the players - have to do with a handful of troublemakers?
If the consequences do not bring long-term results, such as minimizing or removing hooliganism from games, what, then, is the purpose of the punishment?
FIFA's committee fails to give us an answer.
Update: FIFA has suspended punishment for both Ukraine and Peru until after their respective Qualifying games. According to FIFA, "only once the FIFA Appeal Committee has had an opportunity to decide on the appeals will FIFA communicate further information on the two cases."