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Wayne Rooney has been suspended by the English Football Association (FA) for two matches. The Manchester United striker ‘celebrated’ the hat-trick he scored in last Saturday’s match during the 4-2 victory over West Ham United by shouting offensive language into a microphone.

 

The referee did not punish Rooney on Saturday. But after studying television pictures, the FA’s disciplinary committee intervened and suspended Rooney.

 

FIFPro considers this sanction unacceptable, states Wil van Megen, FIFPro lawyer. ‘FIFPro takes a more balanced view of the developments within football where improper language is regularly used. If the referee thinks that the player has gone too far, he can give a yellow card as a disciplinary measure.’

 

‘Giving an immediate red card is legally much more sensitive’, emphasises Van Megen. ‘At such a moment, the referee is punishing somebody for expressing an opinion. An opinion, it is true, that is not of a pleasant nature, but it still falls under freedom of expression.’

 

‘In the civilised world, freedom of expression is guaranteed by national laws and international treaties. The laws and treaties also apply to those who express themselves in a less pleasant way and also to those on the football pitch. In this legislation, we have agreed with each other that freedom of expression can only be restricted and punished by national governments and not by private organisations or persons.’

 

The context is certainly important for exercising civil rights. In amateur football, an appeal to civil rights is less likely to succeed than in professional football. In professional football, a person’s living is on the line, which means that an appeal to civil rights has more weight. Van Megen: ‘If we look at the consequences for Wayne Rooney of a two-match suspension, then he will miss the semi-final of the FA Cup at Wembley. It is not a mild punishment, even though Rooney will not starve. It’s all about the principle.’

 

 

In addition, it is ill-advised to leave the punishing of inappropriate opinions to private organisations, such as, in this case, the FA. Legally, such an organisation does not have greater powers than a normal person or company, says Van Megen. ‘Just as we have agreed that theft must be punished by the state and that a thief cannot be punished and locked up by his neighbour, this must also be carefully kept in mind for these issues.’

 

‘A disciplinary measure is certainly possible, but a certain reticence should be adopted for further punishment’, says Van Megen. In short, a reprimand is, in his view, acceptable, a suspension is not.  ‘If the FA thinks that a player has said things that are liable to punishment, then they should, like any other member of society, report the matter to the judicial authorities. They are there to assess whether the limits of legislation have been breached and whether punishment is appropriate or not.’

 

FIFPro is of the opinion that swearing and cursing on the fields can best be restricted through schooling and education. Top footballers are role models who should be aware of this. Everybody who shares this view will find an ally in FIFPro.

 

Gordon Taylor, PFA president and honorary president of FIFPro, reacted on Rooney's suspension: ‘Whilst the use of foul and abusive language is not condoned, there is an acceptance by all parties within the game that ‘industrial language’ is commonly used.’

 

‘It becomes an issue when directed towards match officials. However, when used in a spontaneous way in celebration or frustration then it is not normally expected to merit a sanction.’

 

‘If sanctions are to be imposed in such circumstances then this has to be done in a balanced and consistent manner, and participants made aware of this fundamental change in approach.’