Disbandment of FIFA Anti-Racism Task Force – sad day for sport


Disbandment of FIFA Anti-Racism Task Force – sad day for sport

THE SouthernTIMES Mar 19, 2018

    It never rains but pours for Mario Balotelli, it seems. After alerting the referee to racist actions of fans, Mario Balotelli was himself cautioned and given a yellow card. This is a travesty of justice. It is only proper that the French Ligue 1 has opened an investigation into the racist abuse which Balotelli suffered during the Dijon vs Nice match on 10 February 2018. Racism is still alive and kicking.   

    The legendary English footballer Cyrille Regis was laid to rest recently. Regis was a pioneer who fought racism with his abundant skill and prowess on the football pitch. He was a great role model and played a critical role in opening doors for many players of African descent to excel in the “beautiful game”. It is very sad that the challenges faced by Regis and his fellow black players in the 1970s and 80s are still there.

    The sporting world and football lovers, in particular, were shocked when in 2016 the international football governing body, FIFA disbanded its Anti-Racism Task Force. The background and rationale for this regressive and unpalatable decision have not been 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. How can the fight against racism be a “temporary mission”? It is indeed a euphemism to state that this is one of the most irrational decisions that have been made by the football world governing body. It is a terrible smack in the face for all those people of different racial backgrounds who have been working to achieve equity, equality and inclusion in world sport.

    The late President of the Republic of South Africa, the great Nelson Mandela, was a great advocate of the power of sport to transform the world and unite 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 sports 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 sense, 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-à-vis, the terms of reference when they disbanded the FIFA 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, there is a lot of work to be undertaken in educating football clubs and their numerous fans on matters of respect and racial equality.

    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 even further. 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 organisation from its current quagmire. This also applies to Gianni Infantino, who despite winning the presidential elections, still has to prove to a sceptical 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. The FIFA hierarchy needs to change its attitude. There is no other way! The ball is in the court of the electorate, the FIFA member federations.  As some wise elders have aptly stated, “A bad attitude is like a flat tyre. You cannot go anywhere unless you change it.”  The time for change has indeed arrived.




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