Racism in football: Challenge to the integrity of football

May 19, 2017
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By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

LAST year, The Southern Times Sport Forum lamented the disbandment of the FIFA Anti-Racism Task Force as premature and ill-advised.   

It was, indeed, a dark and sad day for global football and dampened the euphoria brought with the election of a young FIFA President, going by the organisation’s track record. Credit to FIFA, they have appointed an African woman, a seasoned diplomat to be the Secretary General of the most powerful international sport federation.

However, despite their individual abilities, both Gianni Infantino and Fatma Samoura need lots of advice if they are going to continue steering the FIFA ship in the right direction.

The decision to disband the Anti-Racism Task Force was a terrible error of judgement because the actual members of the organ were not even fully consulted that their services were no longer needed.

The same applies to the termination of the services of the chief ethics investigator, Cornel Borbely as well as the judge of the ethics committee, Hans –Joachim Eckert. Obviously, something is very wrong again in FIFA, so soon after the damaging corruption scandals that engulfed the organisation.

The recent scandal involving Ghanaian footballer, Sulley Muntari, in the Italian Serie A is just but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the maltreatment of players of African descent in Europe.

The efforts to combat racism are weak and disjointed. To add insult to injury, the punishments meted out by UEFA and FIFA are nothing but the usual proverbial “slaps on the wrist”.

The lack of seriousness in punishing racism emboldens the perpetrators. They know they can still torment other human beings and walk away, literally, scot-free.

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 great President of the Republic of South Africa was a great advocate of the power of sport to transform the world and united people of diverse backgrounds. His 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 the 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 disband 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 want or panacea for the serious challenges confronting football when it comes to racial equality and tolerance.

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. 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 knees and into serious disrepute.

They might not necessarily be the crop of leaders or the best people to drag the organisation 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. 

All human beings were created equal. Racism is an abomination and has no basis in science, morals and law.

It cannot be allowed in football structures or anywhere, for that matter. 

It cannot be condoned! Hats off to Sulley Muntari for standing up to racist cowards at Cagliari.

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