FIFA, world soccer's governing body, enacted new rules designed to fight racism on the field. The policy could be used to combat neo-Nazis in Germany's soccer stadiums.
The new policy makes teams responsible for their fans' actions
The rules, approved by FIFA last month, went into effect on Thursday and dictate that an "official or spectator behaving in a discriminatory or contemptuous manner (that) can be attributed to a certain team" could cost the team three points for a first offense, six for a second and relegation for further violations.
For matches in which points are not awarded, such as in the World Cup's knock-out rounds and other international tournaments, the offending team could be disqualified and member associations excluded for up to two years.
"Racism has, for far too long, been damaging the beautiful game we love," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said. "Now that we have the instruments, together, the soccer family can work to combat racism and discrimination."
The rules are an "emergency decision in an emergency situation," Blatter added, referring to recent racist confrontations in Spain and Italy.
Fans could be able to abuse the new rules
Rules apply to all levels of competition
"Naturally we are going to take care that such acts in the fourth German league will also be punished," FIFA Secretary General Urs Linsi said, referring to attacks made on a Leipzig regional league team's Nigerian player during a match last week.
"It wasn't the first time I was insulted, but until now I've been able to concentrate on my game," Adebowale Ogungbure said. "But it has never been as bad as it was in Halle."
While the Bundesliga has not suffered from widespread racism to the degree of other European leagues, neo-Nazi sentiments are can be seen in German top flight and could be punished under the rules if the culprits are caught.
Right-wing extremists to recruit at World Cup
In the lead up to the World Cup the right-wing extremist NPD party has started a campaign called "White, not just a jersey color -- for a real national team" against Werder Bremen and German national team defender Patrick Owomoyela. His number 25 jersey is printed on the front of the NPD's World Cup schedule.
Owomoyela plays in the German national team's defense
The German Soccer Association (DFB) is examining legal action against the NPD, DFB Media Director Harald Stenger told tagesschau.de. Officials at Werder Bremen also said they were looking into what action they could take against the party.
Punishing offenders problematic
How exactly FIFA intends to prevent abuse of the new rules is still unclear.
In a lot of European countries, racist behavior is going unnoticed and is not being acted upon, so highlighting the issue is welcome," Piara Powar, director of Kick It Out, a campaign devoted to ending racism in soccer, told the Independent newspaper. "But there's no way that any disciplinary body will dock points for the displaying of a single offensive banner, and it wouldn't be effective."
It also remains to be determined how to ensure fans do not intentionally attempt to have opposing teams excluded from competition by exploiting the anti-racism rules.
"The suggestion is right; you have to tackle (racism) severely, (but) I feel it is difficult to tackle a club 100 percent because you cannot be responsible for 50,000 people," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told reporters. "You have to punish people when you catch them and not let them back in."