Fare in Love and War

The last couple of days have seen the re-igniting of claims about the impartiality of the Fare Network in Scottish Football after an incident on Twitter.

fare.pngFare retweeted a post that included derogatory slurs about Rangers and a video of the Ibrox dressing room under Graeme Sounness singing “The Billy Boys”, a song which is expressly now understood to be bigoted. The content of the video belongs in another era though and really is of little relevance to present day matters. The video referenced in the tweet similarly had been doing the rounds on social media but is of little relevance. It featured Scott Brown in a bar where a Christmas song where the final words had been changed to ‘Merry Christmas, F**k the huns’. He doesn’t appear to be involved in any way with it. Interest in both would drop by the wayside in any case as it rightly should.

The retweeting by Fare however was seized upon by Rangers fans demanding to know why an organisation who actively try to remove discrimination from the game would retweet such partisan and derogatory language about their team. In response Fare removed the retweet and produced a partial explanation and apology:

“Earlier today a junior member of the Fare communications team accidentally retweeted a tweet from another user that included bad language and contained an accusation of sectarian behaviour by some Rangers fans.

“We apologise unreservedly to anyone who has taken offence and reiterate that the tweet does not reflect our views on the situation in Scottish football.

“The retweet was live for no longer than five minutes. However we have put in place safeguards to prevent this type of error occurring again.

“We continue to maintain the high standards of our work to tackle discrimination wherever it occurs and to bring about behaviour change.”

While apologies for misjudgements are always welcome, it didn’t really explain how this could accidentally happen – it takes two touches to retweet so a single finger slip seems unlikely, while its possible it may have been through mistakenly being logged into the wrong account, which suggests it was intentionally retweeted but accidentally the wrong account. The latter would call into question the employee’s suitability to be in such a role. It does seem like there is further questions needing resolved.

Indeed a strong, but largely pretty fair, statement was then released by Rangers fan ownership body Club 1872 (which can be found in full here):

Club 1872 is extremely concerned about an incident this morning where the official account of Football Against Racism Europe (FARE) retweeted a derogatory tweet from a Celtic fan regarding Rangers Football Club and its supporters.

FARE has now confirmed that one of their employees retweeted the offensive tweet which has subsequently been deleted. They have also issued a statement on Twitter which completely fails to address how and why this happened and is misleading as to the content of the tweet and how long it remained on their Twitter account before they deleted it.

In the meantime, ahead of a crucial final group game in the Europa League tomorrow night, we would remind supporters of their duty to ensure that no further sanctions are forthcoming from UEFA for sectarian chanting. Regardless of ongoing issues regarding impartiality and transparency with FARE, until UEFA properly examine the way in which the organisation operates they retain the ability to report any incidents as they see fit.

It is particularly encouraging to see that final positive message and recognition that it is within Rangers fans own hands in any case to avoid punishment, even if it is couched a little in thinly-veiled accusations.

In any case the entire incident reignited the flames of an incident that had burned brightly prior to Rangers insolvency and relaunch from the bottom flight. The flare up in 2011 centred on Rangers being upset that UEFA’s correspondence on the subject includes a complaint from Powar’s FARE organisation. At the hearing, Rangers argued that UEFA should not act on complaints from outside bodies, which might contradict the observations of their own match delegates.

Back in 2011, then Chief Executive Martin Bain claimed the organisation was infiltrated by “people who make it their business to damage Rangers in any way they can” after threats that Ibrox would be shut down for two games. Bain went on to claim Rangers had never denied that sectarian singing was a problem but added: “This now has all the hallmarks of a deliberate and targeted campaign against the club.

FARE executive director Piara Powar hit back at the accusations.

 “There are explicit suggestions emanating from Rangers FC of ‘a deliberate and targeted campaign against the club’.

“The FARE network is focused only on our core mission of tackling discrimination in football. We have no axe to grind with any club.

“I can confirm that FARE submitted separate observer reports to UEFA following each of Rangers’ two Europa League games against Eindhoven.

“The reports were gathered as part of an ongoing monitoring programme prompted by concerns at sectarian singing at previous Rangers matches in Europe this season.”

It’s understood that as well as the FARE observer in Eindhoven on March 10, UEFA’s Icelandic delegate Geir Thorsteinsson referred to chants in his report, but that Northern Irish delegate William Campbell did not make reference in his report from Ibrox a week later and that charge was based on FARE’s findings alone.

On the incidents at the time Powar had said:

“I can confirm that FARE submitted separate observer reports to Uefa following each of Rangers’ two Europa League games against Eindhoven. The reports were gathered as part of an ongoing monitoring programme undertaken by partners of the network, in this case prompted by concerns at sectarian singing at previous Rangers matches in Europe this season.”

Powar himself has come under scrutiny from Rangers fans as his wife, Aasmah Mir the BBC broadcaster, is a fan of their rivals Celtic.

She had previously said:

“I’ve always had an affection for the underdog. But it never was going to be Rangers anyway – not since my schooldays when I remember these older guys coming to the school gates wearing Rangers tops and handing out leaflets supporting the BNP.”

We’d previously written extensively on the subject of UEFA case precedent in the area of bigotry, but particularly prejudice on racial and religious grounds (often described combined or alone under the umbrella of ‘sectarianism’).

So the obvious question is, are the complaints by Rangers justified? To answer you really need to consider what Fare is and what its modus operandi is.

The Fare Network (Fare initially stood for Football Against Racism in Europe) evolved to become an organisation that combats inequality and discrimination in football in all its forms. It addresses racism (clearly – it is in the acronym), but also far-right nationalism, sexism, trans and homophobia, discrimination against the disabled and sexism. It states its main aim as:

“to see the beautiful game played without discrimination and used as a tool to unite communities and overcome exclusion”

When you look through the work that they do, it is international in scope across Europe – in 40 different countries with 150 different member organisations. The UK does have a number of member organisations of the network, but none of them are particularly Scottish orientated:

Black Collective Of Media In Sport (BCOMS), Centre for access to football in Europe (CAFE), Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust, Football Unites Racism Divides, Kick It Out, Pride Sports, South Asian Health Action charity, University of Bolton and Zimbabwe Newport Volunteering Association.

When you look at how they describe their work also, its quite clear why they’d take a particular interest in bigotry in Scottish football. It just fits.

Fare:

  • Challenges discrimination at all levels of football
  • Uses football as a tool to tackle societal discrimination
  • Fosters networking and the transnational exchange of good practice
  • Undertakes activities to empower and build capacity of marginalised and discriminated groups
  • Gives a voice to those combating discrimination in football

Fare also uses its expertise to provide advice and support in combating discrimination and promoting social inclusion and regularly organises and supports initiatives, including:

  • Hosting international events and conferences
  • Producing best practice guides and educational materials
  • Organising pan-European and international campaigns, including the Football People action weeks
  • Delivering activities at international football competitions
  • Monitoring matches and reporting discrimination

Also having looked at the educational materials they produced, some of which are very good and examples can be found here and here, it really doesn’t pick up on Scottish football at all.

In relation to the matchday observer scheme, the way of selecting matches to observe is described as follows:

Members of the Fare team assess all international matches in Europe for the likelihood of discriminatory behavior and send observers to matches that we identify as a risk for potentially high levels of racism, extreme nationalism, xenophobia, antisemitism or homophobia.

The assessment is made on the basis of previous reports received by Fare and an evaluation into the nature of the fixture in its socio-cultural context.

Fare does not send observers to domestic league fixtures. However we receive reports through the media, from members and incoming reports, which help us to develop a picture.

It is possible that there is bias in the assessment of the risk for high levels of discriminatory conduct. It also seems likely though that when a club is on the radar and participates in such behaviours, it is going to up its own risk rating. The way to avoid that is to be observed and have no findings. This seems to have been exactly what has happened with Rangers recently – counteracting past accumulations of findings that such behaviours did occur – and if it continues would see less presence of observers at games.

The schedule is co-ordinated with UEFA

It would be reasonable to envisage that continued absence of reportable behaviour should see Rangers monitored less often. If there is indeed an anti-Rangers agenda, that would not happen. Making accusations against Fare in this way fits with a perception that has not really been borne out by evidence – as Fare look to be doing what they said they would where they find misconduct. This latest incident though does give some credence to such claims and means that the ongoing situation will be monitored closely.

The punishments UEFA have handed out as well are entirely consistent with their own priorities and stated application. Every club knew that steeper punishments for breaches of the racism (which would include sectarianism under UEFA auspices) were coming.

UEFA see this as a priority

We discussed the progression of UEFA’s stance on this subject and how by 2011 things had markedly changed in our series on ‘bigotry’ starting here. It simply does not matter whether the discriminatory conduct that UEFA bring charges on relates to racial discrimination (such as anti-Irish sentiment), religious discrimination (such as anti-Catholicism or anti-Protestantism) or ethnic origin (such as against Irish immigrants or diaspora) – any of them or any combination are equal in seriousness and punishment under the same standards.

In that same series in parts 3 and 4 we covered how the SFA has singularly failed to implement the same standards that UEFA demand and which Fare work to in Scottish domestic football. The real difference is that Rangers return to European football comes at a time when they had not been conditioned to such expectations by their club and their FA. The ‘journey’ which was televised had seen a lot of behaviour that would have fallen foul of such scrutiny. Now that Rangers are playing European football again, a different behaviour is required to stay on the right side of the rules. It was a clash years in the making that could have easily been made less confrontational if addressed earlier. But the positive is that Rangers ARE showing they can make that change and it ought to start changing the perceptions of Fare and UEFA. If that carries on and it doesn’t, there will be real questions needing answered.

 

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