UEFA open disciplinary proceedings against Celtic

Celtic FC are about to feel the wrath of UEFA, for the second time this season, following their Champions League clash with Manchester City, last night, at the Etihad Stadium.

UEFA announced today that it was opening disciplinary proceedings against the club following reports of  crowd disturbances and pyrotechnics. The confirmation of sanctions is scheduled for 23 February 2017.

UEFA's Disciplinary Regulations govern order and security at UEFA competition matches. Under Article 16(1) "host clubs and national associations are responsible for order and security both inside and around the stadium before, during and after matches. They are liable for incidents of any kind and may be subject to disciplinary measures and directives unless they can prove that they have not been negligent in any way in the organisation of the match."

UEFA have confirmed that they will not take any action against Manchester City and are satisfied that the club had taken stringent measures to try to prevent trouble ahead of the fixture. Such measures included studying previous incidents involving Celtic in an attempt to anticipate any aggravating factors and viewing the purchase history of those buying tickets for the home-end. There were also measures on the night including the construction of a perimeter fence to ensure only those with tickets could enter the stadium.

Contrary to Art.16(1), 16(2) applies strict liability and therefore the club can still be held liable for the behaviour of its supporters even if the club can show that it was not their fault and they took all reasonable measures but ultimately, the breach was not prevented.

Art. 16(2) states that "all associations and clubs are liable for inappropriate behaviour on the part of their supporters and may be subject to disciplinary measures and directives even if they can prove the absence of any negligence in relation to the organisation of the match."

PSV Eindhoven previously attempted to challenge the strict liability provision under Art.16(2), back in 2003, but this was dismissed and the legality of the strict liability approach was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Examples of inappropriate behaviour include: invasion or attempted invasion of the field of play; the throwing of objects; lighting of fireworks; use of laser pointers or other similar objects; use of gestures, words, objects to transmit political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative messages; acts of damage; causing a disturbance during national anthems; and any other lack of order or discipline observed inside or around the stadium.

In determining sanctions, UEFA, under Art.17(1) will consider the objective and subjective elements of each case along with any aggravating and mitigating circumstances, reducing or increasing sanctions, accordingly. Clubs may choose, for example, to disclose evidence such as warnings given to fans prior to games about behaviour and information about stadium regulations and security at away grounds along with educating fans of the consequences of such behaviour. Under Art.17(2), UEFA can use it's discretion to scale down or dispose of a sanction, in its entirety, if the club has provided evidence that UEFA considers was decisive in establishing or uncovering the breach.

Possible sanctions for breaches of Art. 16(2) include monetary fines and bans on fans attending events.

In December 2016, UEFA fined FC Kobenhavn €19,000 after a section of their fans let off flares in the away section of Leicester City's stadium back in October 2016. On that occasion, FC Kobenhavn were charged for the one offence compared to Celtic's two offences. However, in September 2016, Borussia Dortmund, was charged with the offences of (1) letting off fireworks and (2) throwing objects. The club received a €15,000 fine, in return.

In terms of crowd disturbances, Legia Warsaw was ordered to play a fixture behind closed doors and fined €80,000, in September 2016. It must be stressed, however, that this was a crowd disturbance on a much larger scale and included a number of other aggravating breaches that included racist behaviour, throwing objects, blocking stairways, insufficient organisation and letting off fireworks.

In imposing strict liability, UEFA makes it clear that it will not accept inappropriate fan behaviour and clubs will be held accountable, as a result. It is considered, by many, that inappropriate behaviour can have serious consequences for a sport and therefore by imposing strict liability, sporting organisations and fans alike are encouraged to take all reasonable and practicable steps to prevent and deter inappropriate behaviour, where possible.

Celtic will hear their fate on 23 February 2017.

IMPORTANT: This post is not intended to be a legal briefing, it is not intended to be a statement of the law and no action should be taken in reliance on it without specific legal advice.

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