Sports Q&A - What are the key changes to the new FIFA Disciplinary Code?
01 August 2019
John Shea and ISDE Madrid Sports Law Masters student Udo Seckelmann (currently on a 3 month placement with Lewis Silkin) have used their football expertise to answer this month’s question about the updated FIFA Disciplinary Code.
After almost 15 years without any significant change, FIFA published on 11 July 2019 the new version of its Disciplinary Code (“FDC”). According to the international federation, the new FDC is the result of a substantial increase in the workload of the disciplinary committees over the last decade, “together with a rising demand for a faster, more efficient and rigorous disciplinary procedure”.
In a completely new format, the FDC is better structured (reducing from 142 to 72 articles) and in total there are five key changes:
1. Racism and Discrimination
After years of a “Say No To Racism” campaign, FIFA has implemented a zero tolerance approach to racism and discrimination in football by establishing harsher sanctions to offenders. The minimum suspension for persons who engage in racist or discriminatory behaviour has been increased to 10 matches from 5 matches, for clubs whose supporters engage in racist behaviour there is a minimum fine of CHF 20,000 plus a restriction on spectators and FIFA can now order a club or association to implement a prevention plan for repeat offenders.
Referees can now also declare a match forfeited in the event of racist or discriminatory conduct after applying the so-called “three-step procedure”, which is duly explained in the FIFA Good Practice Guide on Diversity and Anti-Discrimination.
2. Financial Justice
One of the most important changes in the FDC is the attempt to speed up the enforcement procedure of decisions rendered by the Dispute Resolution Chamber and Players` Status Committee by:
a) Making ordinary CAS awards enforceable again by FIFA;
b) Ensuring that a transfer ban is now the default sanction for clubs who do not pay outstanding amounts owed as FIFA have found this to be the most effective enforcement measure; and
c) Confirming that FIFA will act against the sporting successor of a debtor so a club’s change of ownership will not prevent the enforcement of decisions.
3. Legal Aid
In order to facilitate the access to the disciplinary system, individuals who have insufficient financial means may request legal aid from FIFA for disciplinary proceedings which includes:
a) Being released from having to pay the costs of proceedings;
b) The use of pro bono counsel; and
c) Travel and accommodation expenses being covered by FIFA.
This implementation aims to close the gap between parties in terms of their financial power.
For the sake of transparency, FIFA may hold public hearings in certain types of disciplinary proceedings, particularly doping cases (if requested by the defendant and approved by the chairperson of the judicial body) and match manipulation (which will be decided by the chairperson). Match manipulation cases will now be dealt by the Disciplinary Committee only, with the Ethics Committee focusing on more ethical misconducts such as bribery.
In addition, FIFA will also launch in the final quarter of 2019 a website (legal.fifa.com) containing the main decisions passed by the FIFA judicial bodies, as well as other useful legal resources.
With the aim of reducing the number of disciplinary proceedings, it is now possible for the single judge or the chairperson of the Disciplinary Committee to propose a sanction at the outset before formal disciplinary proceedings actually commence. The party accused may either accept the proposed sanction or reject it in which case the proposed sanction shall become null and void and the Disciplinary Committee will determine the appropriate disciplinary measure.
Another novel idea by FIFA is the implementation of plea bargains which allows accused parties to accept liability and request a specific sanction. The relevant judicial body is not bound by this request but this can be a useful mechanism to speed up the disciplinary process if used reasonably.
The new FDC came into force on 15 July 2019 and time will tell whether these changes will lead to a more effective and efficient disciplinary system in football.