FIFA ups the stakes in the fight against racism

FIFA has set up a new anti-discrimination task force ahead of the 2018 Football World Cup in Russia. The taskforce will assess the “high-risk” matches out of the 900-plus qualifiers of the tournament and Yaya Toure will serve as special advisor.

Yaya Toure has been appointed as a consultant to FIFA’s new Anti-Discrimination Monitoring System for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The system will send observers to matches identified as “high-risk” amongst the 900-plus qualifiers ahead of the 2018 World Cup. All of the matches at the World Cup will also be monitored. This is the latest move in a long fight against discrimination in football and will be overseen by European anti-discrimination body Fare.

While FIFA has tried to combat racism with fines here and there, appointing somebody like Toure is a significant step forward in the fight against discrimination. The Ivory Coast captain has been the victim of racial abuse on a number of occasions and having somebody of his stature on the advisory board might help the suits realise just how embedded the problem is.

“The first time I was discriminated against, I was shocked. I was younger, so it was difficult to take in. Every time I touched the ball there was a chant, there were monkey sounds — it hurt a lot. After, I would think to myself: I have to fight against this, I have to show I am stronger than this,” Toure said in an interview with FIFA’s official website.

As recently as 2013, Toure was the victim of severe racist abuse, which saw UEFA ordering the partial closure of CSKA Moscow’s stadium for racist chants directed at him. The 32-year-old has called for more radical sanctions in cases where racial abuse has been found.

“I have been in the situation where there have been monkey chants and it’s difficult to deal with that,” Touré said. “As sportsmen you want to continue to the end, but when you hear something like that it hurts you and breaks you. You need to give them a radical sanction – paying a 20,000 fine is not enough; you need to do more.

“Something has to be done,” Touré added. “No messing. They have to understand that they need to change, otherwise the sanction will be worse.”

Russia, host of the 2018 World Cup, has been under scrutiny for the issue of discrimination recently. A report from the Fare network and Sova Center entitled “Time for Action” found over 200 cases of discriminatory behaviour linked with the Russian game between May 2012 and May 2014.

The report claims that in domestic football, threats and attacks in and outside stadiums by organised far-right groups who propagate hatred by displaying neo-Nazi paraphernalia are common, and compiled the report only from information that was publicly available. It suggests that the issue might have further reach than the report suggests.

Creating an inclusive environment for players and fans is crucial, but it’s far from an easy task. Piara Powar, Fare’s Executive Director and a member of the FIFA Task Force, insists that the crackdown will be much tougher than before.

“It’s very difficult actually,” Powar said. “Our approach will be to have a series of partners. The outcome could be that there will be associations banned or asked to play behind closed doors.

There will be some pain as a result of this process, but there must be a realisation that without that pain, people will not be able to understand how to tackle those issues. [To identify high-risk matches] we have a matrix which consists of between six to eight points of analysis, which includes national history or tensions, stadium and type of players that constitute that particular national team.”

But fighting racism in football is a far more difficult task than simply sanctioning teams and employing a task force. In some cases, it will require changing the whole fabric of a society in which racism and discrimination has been ingrained. While FIFA has often talked about kicking racism out of football, its actions have never quite matched up with its talk. Fines for players wearing the wrong kind of underwear or lifting their shirt during a moment of euphoric celebration have often been far more than those for teams found guilty of racial abuse, despite the players continuously speaking out about the troubles they encounter.

Appointing Touré as an ambassador and advisor could be one of the most crucial steps in beginning to stamp out racism in the sport. But if they fail to act harshly, the move runs the risk of looking like just another plaster over a wound gushing with blood. – Daily Maverick

September 2015
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