Responsibility of Spanish Clubs for the (Mis-) Behaviour of Spectators

1 June 2023 - Sven Wassmer

Looking at recent events in Spain’s football stadiums such as the Espanyol Barcelona fans storming the pitch during the celebration of the championship of Barça players or the racist chants and insults against Real Madrid player Vinicius Jr. in the Valencia stadium, one might ask, if sports clubs are responsible for the misbehaviour of spectators.

Sven Wassmer, PhD Abogado & Rechtsanwalt +34 91 319 96 86

This short article will not analyse potential criminal, civil or administrative responsibility (in the sense of penalties imposed by public authorities). Instead, it will focus on disciplinary responsibility, which, depending on the corresponding competition, lies with the regional, national or international federations.

Unlike criminal or administrative regulations, the norms of sports federations establish a quasi-objective responsibility of clubs. As a result, they are responsible for all incidents that occur in or in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, unless they successfully prove that they acted with sufficient diligence to prevent or reduce such incidents. From a sport-specific perspective, proving a lack of culpable action is not sufficient; the club must prove having acted diligently and having done everything necessary to prevent such incidents. In practice, however, providing such proof is very difficult, since the occurrence of the incidents alone indicates that the clubs did not act with the necessary diligence.

This is reflected for example in the recent events of the racist chants and insults against Vinicius Jr. In this case, the Disciplinary Committee imposed a fine and a partial stadium ban on the Valencia club. Regarding a possible exoneration of the club for diligence, as provided for in the Disciplinary Code of the Federation (RFEF), the committee limits itself to stating that “despite the efforts made by the club, it has not been sufficiently diligent in effectively establishing all the measures necessary to prevent this type of behaviour and to limit its extent if it occurs.” This is an example of the transformation of quasi-objective responsibility into objective responsibility. Hence, applying the Committee’s criteria, it is practically impossible to exonerate the club. The club is ultimately punished for the fact that the incidents took place in its stadium, despite the efforts made by the club and recognised by the Committee.

In practice, save for exceptional cases, clubs in Spain are responsible for the behaviour of fans in the stadium, which is in line with the situation in other countries and in international competitions.