Soccer Anti-racism Campaign Head Calls Out FIFA

Have you been watching the World Cup this month? If so, chances are you’ve seen FIFA’s “Say No to Racism” banners and ads all over the stadiums as your favorite national teams kicked the ball around the pitch. If you watched the quarterfinal matches over the weekend, you might have caught snippets of an anti-racism video that played during the matches and starred some of the world’s best players.

If you’ve spent any time looking under the surface, however, you’d know all this feel-good stuff isn’t nearly enough to erase the ugliest aspect of the beautiful game — and now, the head of FIFA’s anti-racism task force is calling its disciplinary committee out for failing to acknowledge some awful racial incidents that took place during this year’s Cup. Although international soccer’s governing body banned a Croatian player from the World Cup for leading fans in a pro-Nazi chant during the qualification stage last year, FIFA took no action when Croatian fans unfurled banners bearing Celtic Crosses and sang racist chants during their match against host country Brazil. What’s more, FIFA didn’t discipline Russian fans for pulling a similar stunt when Russia played South Korea during the group stage. Even more shocking, German fans dressed up in blackface when Germany played Ghana (a match featuring a pair of Ghanaian-German brothers on opposing sides, interestingly enough) and Mexican fans reportedly shouted homophobic slurs at Cameroonian players. Again, FIFA took no action against those fans.

As task force president Jeffrey Webb told The Guardianthere’s no excuse for FIFA’s poor monitoring. “There is no reason why someone should be entering the stadium clearly displaying their intent. We at FIFA and the local organising committee should be doing a much better job.” Webb also told the Guardian that FIFA had rejected an early proposal to have three trained officials at every match recording evidence of racism.

Piara Powar, another task force member, told The Telegraph, “It seems that some fans of some countries will take their hatred halfway around the world. These images need to be acted on urgently. The levels of homophobic abuse at some matches is also totally unacceptable. There is some rapid education required before it begins to run out of control. FIFA has some strong regulations in place and we hope they use them. Zero tolerance is the approach set out. It is what is required here.”

FIFA, however, has dismissed most of the criticism, telling the Guardian that you can’t punish fans for their behavior because you can’t always prove the nationality of those involved. FIFA disciplinary chairman Claudio Sulser said, “The World Cup has been a clear demonstration of moments of happiness. There have been isolated cases where we can’t intervene only for the sake of intervening.”

Sulser — and FIFA — may have no choice. Although certain countries like Russia have already been hit with penalties that could affect their ability to qualify for other high-profile international tournaments, the world is watching. It’s also looking ahead to the next World Cup, which will take place in (you guessed it!) Russia. At least one Black international star has hinted that boycotts could be in the works if FIFA doesn’t act right. Stay tuned.