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Players in the professional Italian leagues had better watch their language. Since the introduction of a new rule four weeks ago, those found guilty of blasphemy are to receive an immediate suspension. The Italian players’ union AIC regrets the consequences. FIFPro believes the new rule to be a violation of a fundamental right.

 

The new rule is an attempt by the football association (FIGC) to stop excessive swearing. An enormous discussion has been taking place in Italy regarding the huge amount of abusive language used by footballers (and other sportsmen). During the many football programmes shown on television, one could clearly see that many players are repeatedly guilty of blasphemy.

 

Domenico De Carlo (coach of Chievo) and David Lanzafame (Parma player) were the first to be banned for blasphemy. They were both suspended for one match. Further suspensions followed. In one match, the referee issued three red cards due to blasphemy within 15 minutes. One of the players had only been on the field for a minute.

 

The AIC had previously expressed its doubts regarding the new rule. The players’ union nevertheless decided to agree to it, but at the same time to study its consequences until the end of the season in order to then consult the players on the matter. However, after three rounds of games a large number of players have already complained to the AIC. The players’ union has now raised its objections to the rule.

 

Players can be caught in two ways: by the referee and with the help of TV images. The latter is a source of great annoyance. The FIGC is being sent numerous images and has even recruited lip readers in order to catch players or coaches. Chievo’s Michele Marcolini narrowly escaped suspension when, following extensive examination of television images, it turned out that he did not say ‘Dio’ (God), but rather ‘Diaz’. ‘This was not the intention’, said AIC's Stefano Sartori regarding the situation which has arisen.

 

FIFPro is most disgruntled. ‘Just like everyone else, footballers have the basic right of freedom of expression’, says lawyer Wil van Megen. ‘Sometimes this may be unpleasant, such as with the utterance of swear words, but this does not take away the fact that everyone is entitled to say what they want.’

 

 

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‘On the basis of national laws and international legislation, freedom of speech may only be reviewed in retrospect by an act of parliament. If the FIGC wants to pursue this, it can only do so with the help of the Ministry of Justice. The power of a sports federation cannot extend to the restriction of any basic right whatsoever. The issuing of a red card for swearing is a penalty which violates a basic right and neither the referee nor the FIGC has the right to exercise this authority.’

 

‘I once represented a player in the Netherlands who received a red card for swearing. I appealed to the freedom of expression in his defence. Since then, referees in the Netherlands hardly ever give immediate red cards for swearing. A referee can issue a yellow card for cursing and swearing, but that is a disciplinary measure.’

 

‘It is clear to everyone that sports organisation may not take away other basic rights from someone, such as the right to life, the freedom of the press and freedom of religion. This also applies without curtailment to the freedom of expression. Only the government is authorised to limit this freedom and then only in retrospect. We should note that the government has never attempted to do so in the past 100 years.’

 

The solution should rather be found in a better education for players. When people are aware of the need to behave decently, a lot more has been achieved than by punishing their behavior at the cost of their livelihood. Training programs for young players that incorporate this element can count on the support of FIFPro.