Updated: Aug 3, 2022
On December 5, 2021, women’s soccer player Sam Kerr was left to her own devices when a fan stormed the pitch in a game between Chelsea and Juventus. During the match, an attendee ran onto the field, approaching players for pictures and running around aimlessly, with no interference from security. Kerr, seemingly and rightfully frustrated with this interference of the match, lowered her shoulder and knocked over the pitch invader. This led to security finally entering the pitch and, albeit more politely than expected, carrying the fan away. Surprisingly, Kerr received a yellow card penalty for hitting this fan, even though many view her act as one that protected the players when security failed to. While this penalty can and should be appealed, such an occurrence raises questions as to how a fan could disrupt a game so easily with no interference.
When reflecting on how to prevent a fan from storming the field, we typically look to the regulations and laws that deter the individual from making such a decision, and the security that physically prevents the action from taking place. For example, in the MLB, sneaking onto the field is punishable by a criminal trespass charge, a night in jail, a lifetime ban from the venue, and in some jurisdictions, a fine. In New York, this behavior is punishable by up to a year in jail and fines of up to $25,000. In the United Kingdom, fans who storm the field are arrested and charged with a fine of up to 1,000 euro, along with the social ramifications of disrupting the beautiful game. Aside from legal deterrence, fans are usually prevented from entering the pitch because of heightened security protecting the athletes. Due to the harsh penalties at stake and the risk of physical contact with a security guard, many are left questioning how the fan from the Chelsea game ran around for minutes without apprehension, and why he only received a temporary suspension from attending games instead of any criminal or civil charges.
The answer to this question is bleaker than it seems: inequity due to gender. The UK Football Offences Act states, “It is an offense for a person at a designated football match to go onto the playing area, or nay area adjacent to the playing area to which spectators are not generally admitted, without lawful authority or lawful excuse.” While this seems promising for prosecution of the fan’s actions, this Act, amended in 2011, includes protection for teams comprised of men, and not for women. Therefore, under statute in the UK, individuals who sneak onto the field in a women’s game statutorily do not have any risk of criminal or civil penalties. Further, while the venue could hold this fan accountable by creating a lifetime ban for their actions, the venue has also failed to do so. Beyond just failing to ban the fan, the venue did not provide heightened security. This is likely because under UK law, police are not required to attend women’s matches unless a credible threat to the players is made ahead of time. As it currently stands, in the UK, women athletes are afforded little to no protection from intruding fans, and while this fan seemed to be mostly harmless, many fear that relying on the innocence of intruders is a slippery slope. All it takes is one overly obsessed or dangerous fan to put the athlete’s lives in great danger.
Since this incident and the highlighted focus on the inequities in the legal ramifications between men and women sports, Parliament had introduced legislation to amend the Football Offences Act to include women’s matches. Until such an amendment is made, leagues, venues, and law makers should consider additional methods to protect women athletes. Finally, the league should reconsider their penalty on Kerr, as it sends a message that protecting women athletes when the law fails them is an act that negatively affects their career.