Anti-Racism Task Force: Fifa’s shame

THE sporting world and football lovers, in particular, learnt recently that the international football governing body, FIFA has disbanded its Anti-Racism Task Force.

FIFA, obviously, has reasons that are difficult to establish. Intolerable though.

The background and rational for this regressive and unpalatable decision have not be established.

We are told that FIFA decided that the Task Force has “completed its temporary mission” and was, therefore, disbanded and no longer in operation.

It is indeed a euphemism to state that this is one of the most irrational decisions that has been made by the football world governing body.

It is a terrible smack in the face for all those from different racial backgrounds who have been working to achieve equity, equality and inclusion in world sport.

With the 2018 FIFA World Cup getting closer and closer, it would be naïve to gloss over the real challenges of intolerance, racism and bigotry that have been reported in the host country, Russia.

It is, therefore, relevant to ask whether teams comprising people of diverse racial backgrounds are going to be really welcome in Russia.

Are they any educational or awareness programmes being undertaken for the football community and general public in Russia?

The violence that erupted in France during the recently held Euro 2016 football tournament is just but a warning of the havoc that racist bigots, neo-Nazis and other demented people can wreak on a public event.

In addition, incidences of racism have been reported recently in Spain, Italy and parts of Eastern Europe where, in some cases, matches have had to be temporarily halted or abandoned altogether.

The late South African president Nelson Mandela was a great advocate of the power of sport to transform the world and unite people of diverse backgrounds.

Mandela’s words still ring true even today.

“Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination”.

Therefore, all international sport federations and not just FIFA, are in a unique position to provide visible and dynamic leadership in combating racism in all its forms in the contemporary global society that exists.

In this connection, the FIFA Anti-Racism Task Force is a much needed and relevant aspect of FIFA’s efforts in developing and marketing what the great Brazilian player, Pele, referred to as jogo bonnito, “the beautiful game”.

Gianni Infantino needs to be reminded of his responsibilities to the football associations who elected him to power recently.

It would be interesting to understand what “accomplishments” are being referred to by the FIFA authorities vis a vis the terms of reference when they disbanded the Anti-Racism Task Force.

If they think bigotry and racism have disappeared from world football, then it is evident that they have developed serious amnesia.

Obviously, the appointment of the first African and first woman to the post of secretary general, cannot be a magic wand or panacea for the serious challenges confronting football when it comes to racial equality and tolerance.

Cynics could retort that there is nothing “fair” in this world. However, simply because there does not seem to be any fairness or perfection in this world does not mean that people should just accept what is there. Human beings intrinsically strive for improvement in all aspects of life.

Sport governance is not an exception. The quest for the improvement of football governance must go on. There is no doubt that football is the biggest and most popular sport in the world and it has great potential to grow.

FIFA and its leadership must strive for excellence every time. Disbanding the Anti-Racism Task Force flies in the face of what FIFA has achieved over the years. Football stadiums should not be arenas of prejudice, hate, intolerance and violence.

Going to a football match at any level should be a family affair for all people regardless of socio-economic, political, racial background or geographic location.

The decision to disband the Anti-Racism Task Force speaks volumes about the need for transparency and good governance at FIFA. To this end, thorough house cleaning is still required at FIFA.

Most of the current Confederation leaders and FIFA Executive Board Members have been part and parcel of the system that brought the game to its knee and into serious disrepute.

They might not necessarily be the crop of leaders or the best people to drag the organization from its current quagmire.

This also applies to Gianni Infantino, who despite winning the presidential elections, still has to prove to a skeptical public and sponsors that, he is indeed the right man to lead world football in a new direction.

This new direction must continue to embrace all people regardless of their background.  Hopefully, by the time the 2018 FIFA World Cup is played, these troubles could be distant memories.

Right now, it is all like a bad dream but the game will undoubtedly emerge much stronger from these governance set-backs.

There is no other way! The ball is in the court of the electorate, the FIFA Member Federations.  As Regina Tucker has aptly stated, “You can give a person knowledge but you can’t make them think. Some people want to remain fools, only because the truth requires change”.

October 2016
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