UEFA raises stakes by threatening England, Russia with Euro expulsion
MARSEILLE, France -- When UEFA reminded England and Russia that they could be expelled from Euro 2016 if there are further episodes of supporter violence on Sunday, it was the equivalent of pointing to the nuclear detonator. Because, make no mistake about it, throwing a nation out of a tournament once it has begun would be an unprecedented step that would have massive repercussions, politically and otherwise.
Particularly in this case, given the two countries in question. You have England, home to the world's richest football league and, at least when it comes to reporting on the politics of sports, most aggressive media as well. And Russia, which, in two years' time will host the World Cup. Then there's the socio-political ramifications that go well beyond sports, stretching into international relations between Russia, Britain and the European Union.
Note, too, that this sort of measure -- expulsion from the tournament -- is unrelated to other disciplinary measures of the kind that can be applied for events within the stadium, such as racism or violence, by UEFA's disciplinary committees. These require a whole due process of reporting and appeals.
Expulsion from the tournament by a vote of the Executive Committee is an entirely different beast. It can happen suddenly. It's not a court of law, they don't need to go through an elaborate due process. The ExCo simply gets together and votes.
This threat has been issued once before: to England, in fact, at Euro 2000, following the violence in Charleroi. This most recent decision was made by a vote of the ExCo on Sunday morning and, crucially, it was unanimous, although among the 18 members, Russia, England and Turkey did not vote.
Of course, agreeing to threaten your own nation with expulsion and voting to actually ban them are different things. There's a vast abyss between the two. But having come this far, if there is more violence on the scale witnessed in Marseille, it's hard to see how UEFA's ExCo could not vote to expel the offenders. And it's worth remembering, in matters such as this, it only requires a simple majority.
Why would UEFA choose to take such a drastic step at this time, knowing that if there is more violence someone will try to call their bluff?
Because at this stage, there is only so much they can do to guarantee the immediately safety of the tournament. They can conduct far-reaching inquiries into events in Marseille alongside French law enforcement and review mistakes that were made, but that will take time and Russia and England both play again in a few days.
They can review ticketing procedures and videotape and identify the fans who engaged in violence both in the streets and at the Stade Velodrome and maybe they can be arrested or deported. But that, too, will take time. They can sanction the FAs, but as we've learned so many times in the past, the FAs have limited control over their supporters.
This warning, while drastic, forces supporters to take note. Not so much the hooligans bent on wrecking everything -- those guys can't be helped -- but the bystanders, the ones who gather around to watch or maybe get lured into throwing a bottle or two. Maybe those people will think twice and will actually work with law enforcement to avoid these situations. Maybe they'll help fans self-police. Maybe they won't just isolate the miscreants -- that famed "tiny minority" that always get blamed -- but they'll identify them as well.
There may well have been mistakes made by law enforcement, organisers and UEFA themselves that helped facilitate what we witnessed in Marseille. You hope that they'll be fixed and we'll learn from it. But right now the only immediate next step that UEFA could take is reminding supporters that being at Euro 2016 is a privilege, not a right.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.