One of most talked about incidents of this year’s UEFA Champions League occurred during a match between AC Milan and Tottenham Hotspur, where midfielder Gennaro Gattuso was punished by UEFA for his alleged head butt on Spurs coach Joe Jordan. However, whether you agree with the punishment or not, surely this is an incident that shouldn’t come under UEFA’s jurisdiction at all?
Granted, the incident occurred during one of the highest profile fixtures of the football calendar - you don’t get much bigger than the knock-out stages of the Champions League - but is the incident a football one, or no different to any other offence committed on the streets?
Following the issuing of Gattuso’s punishment, UEFA released a short statement clarifying its view of the situation. The statement read 'The control and disciplinary body ruled that Gattuso had assaulted the Tottenham Hotspur coach Joe Jordan after that match'.
It is the use of the word 'assaulted' that, in my view, raises questions about this incident. Assault is defined as an act carried out by a threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause harm. Surely grabbing an elderly man by the throat and proceeding to head butt him is a threat of bodily harm?
Some people may argue that this is a football incident as it occurred on the field of play. But this was not a flare up between two players, a late attempt to win the ball spilling over into violence. This was Gennaro Gattuso, an experienced professional footballer who has made 395 club and 73 international appearances, purposefully coming to the edge of the field to confront a man who, to all intents and purposes, could have little impact on the game.
If this incident had occurred in a different setting, on a different occasion, then surely this is a criminal offence? Why does the hallowed turf of the San Siro make any difference to how the incident should be seen in the eyes of the law?
Obviously there has been a huge amount of discussion and arguments over the days and weeks following the game, a shame given that they somewhat overshadowed a fantastic away Champions League performance by Spurs.
Whilst the general consensus seemed to be that Gattuso had acted stupidly, that this is rightly an incident unwelcome within the game, these major excuses or accusations seems to be missing the point somewhat. Whilst those may argue that as an experienced professional footballer Gattuso should know better than to start causing trouble with the opposition’s coach. However, whether Gattuso attacks Joe Jordan or boxer David Haye, the law is still the same. Violence is a not a part of football, and therefore cannot be solely punished by those responsible for the sport.
Gattuso may consider himself unlucky to be punished in such a way that could prevent him from playing in another Champions League in his career. But he should consider himself lucky to still have the chance to play another game of professional football again.
Ashley Burtoft, student
BSc(Hons) Sport Science and Management
School of Science and Technology, Nottingham Trent University
: Ashley raises an important issue with this article – where should the line be drawn between sports regulations and the law? As Ashley rightly points out, should UEFA be punishing players for incidents that take place off the field of play and could have resulted in a criminal prosecution had they occurred in any other setting? The fine line between sports regulation and 'formal' areas of the law is increasingly being tested. Alex Ferguson has recently been issued with a fine and a touchline ban for criticising a referee. In the April edition of , we will examine whether this constitutes a restriction on his freedom of speech.
Many thanks to Ashley for raising this important issue, which we will explore in future editions of in closer detail. If YOU are a student studying sports law, management or regulation and you have an issue that you feel needs exploring and you would like to see published on this blog, please a synopsis to Andy Brown, Editor of World Sports Law Report.