Racism in Football: Need for exemplary leadership at FIFA

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By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

Racism is rife in modern sport. It is a scourge not only of global sport and world peace similar to other threats of terrorism, organised crime, illegal betting and doping, it is also a direct attack on the fundamental and inalienable rights of other human beings. 

Racism pervades other forms of social, economic and political life.  No sane person will openly admit that they are racist. It is the action that speaks louder than words.

The South African Afrikaner Broederbund, Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other right-wing white supremacist organisations in Europe and the United States are among the few exceptions.

Racism in Russia and Eastern Europe is not talked about very much although there have been recent incidences in football stadiums exhibiting the most virulent and open hatred for people of African descent.

The world football governing body, FIFA, claims, on paper, to have “zero tolerance” for racism or any form of discrimination.

This is well and good but FIFA needs to demonstrate in practice and reality that it has the desire to vigorously pursue and punish all forms of blatant prejudice and hate exhibited by officials and fans       alike.

During an international friendly played in March, in St Petersburg in Russia, Paul Pogba, Ousmane Dembele and N’golo Kante were subjected to racist taunts by the fans at the Krestovsky Stadium.

This stadium is one of the host venues for this year’s FIFA World Cup. In response, at a recent FIFA disciplinary hearing, the committee decided to impose a fine of £22,000 on the Russian Football Union.

This decision is not only scandalous but is a serious insult to all followers of football and lovers of the game of African descent all over the world.

The decision implies that FIFA does not care about the feelings and integrity of African people.

Furthermore, this decision has been condemned by a number of people and organisations including the United Kingdom-based Anti-Racism campaign group, Kick It Out.

The most disgraceful consequence of this decision is the silence of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and other member associations on the continent.

As the United States legendary civil rights leader, the late Dr Martin Luther King, Jnr aptly observed, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.

However, genuine lovers of the game should not keep quiet. Even governments in Africa should question this decision by FIFA, as it shows that this international sport federation does not have an effective action programme or desire to combat the scourge of racism in world football. It is a monumental embarrassment for all sport lovers.

It is also evident that in the year of the FIFA World Cup, the Russian Football Union and other critical stakeholders in Russia, which include the Ministry of Sport and the World Cup Organizing Committee have not undertaken any anti-racism public education.

What will happen if, by chance, the hosts, Russia meet an African country during the World Cup preliminary rounds?

This is, indeed, a recipe for disaster. If African fans do go to Russia in large numbers and are in the stadium and monkey chants and racist taunts start, there will be blood on the terraces in the stadium.

Maybe that is what FIFA wants to see. A bad advertisement for the “beautiful game”, open hatred, confrontation and violence between players and fans alike at the FIFA World Cup.

At least a fine of £500,000-£1 million, which can also be used by FIFA and the organising committee for anti-racism education campaigns in Russian football, would have been a strong message and clear sign from FIFA that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable at all in football.

Racism is persisting and remains a serious attack on the humanity and integrity of Africans and people of African descent.

They are the primary targets of this uncalled for bias, hate and discrimination. International sport federations such as FIFA and other stakeholders should take decisive action against racist behaviour on and off the field of play.

Africans and players of African descent from all over the world have greatly enriched the game of football.

What would the game be without the great Brazilian Pele and his numerous compatriots who have entertained fans regardless of racial background? 

Great players such Ruud Eusebio of Portugal (of Mozambican origin), Jean Tigana, Cyrille Regis, Viv Anderson, Garth Crooks, John Fashanu, John Barnes, Anthony Yeboah, Ruud Gullit, Paul Ince, Didier Drogba and many others have graced various football stadia and added great value to the clubs and national teams that they have played for.

It is, therefore, crucial that FIFA revives the Anti-Racism Task Force and practically enforces, without fear or favour, the policy of “zero tolerance for discrimination” instead of it being a glorified slogan.

In his recent remarks with regard to racism, the South African Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng correctly stated: “We need to end this embarrassment.

“We know there is nothing behind skin colour. Why are we allowing [ourselves] to be trapped by something so useless? We know that the foundation of injustices of the past is racism.” FIFA must lead by example!

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