MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Sep 26 – FIFA’s decision to disband a racism task force came under fire Monday despite reassurances offered by their new secretary-general Fatma Samoura.
The 54-year-old Senegalese — the first woman and non-European to serve on the FIFA executive — said the world body could live with the perception held by many that it was too soon to end the task force’s work.
However, two-time former FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali bin Hussein slammed the decision as ‘ridiculous’.
Damian Collins, co-founder of New FIFA Now, a group lobbying for reform of FIFA, told AFP it illustrated how out of touch FIFA was with the real issues football had to deal with.
But Samoura, recruited to some surprise from the United Nations in May, was adamant despite the criticism that FIFA was on the right path.
“If it was job done I wouldn’t be here,” said Samoura referring to her presenting the inaugural FIFA Diversity Award for combatting discrimination at the Soccerex Global Football Convention.
The task force was established in 2013 by disgraced former FIFA President Sepp Blatter to eradicate racism in football but was disbanded recently with the world sports body controversially insisting the mission had been a success.
“Fighting discrimination is a long journey. The job of the taskforce was to come up with recommendations and now our job is to implement them,” said Samoura.
“There are many initiatives. It is FIFA’s moral duty to lead by example.”
She took her new post in June after she was persuaded by FIFA president Gianni Infantino to leave the UN after a distinguished 21 year career with the UN World Food Programme which saw her serve in hotspots such as Sierra Leone and Liberia.
She sought to allay many peoples concerns about the racism problem in Russia, hosts of the 2018 World Cup.
“Russia is no different to many other countries,” she said.
“I have travelled there twice already and in the talks I’ve held with them the authorities have been very receptive to diversity and battling discrimination.”
She had been adamant earlier too of FIFA’s stance.
“It is zero tolerance to discrimination on grounds of culture, racism colour of the skin and sexual orientation.”
– ‘Fight far from over’ –
Andy Burnham, formerly Culture, Media and Sport Secretary in former prime minister Gordon Brown’s government, aired his concerns when he opened the convention, addressing Samoura directly saying it was worrying with Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup as their fans are notorious for their racist chants and attacks.
“It’s not football’s problem alone but it is used as a vehicle by extremists in football to try and promote Islamophobia and xenophobia,” said Burnham, who is the favourite to be elected Mayor of Manchester next year.
Soccerex is a top sports business conference bringing together more than 3,000 delegates to Manchester over the coming three days.
Prince Ali, who lost to Infantino in the FIFA presidential election earlier this year, described the FIFA view as shameful.
“The fight against racism is far from over and the notion that the current FIFA leadership believes that the ‘task force’s recommendations have been implemented’ is shameful.”
Prince Ali, who is president of the Jordanian Football Association, said that FIFA’s principles were being betrayed.
“Transparency, trust, credibility and integrity are the values that should run through everything FIFA does – Not tackling the plague of racism and discrimination properly is an absolute betrayal of those values,” said the former FIFA vice-president.
Collins, a Conservative lawmaker who is also acting chair of the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said it was an abrogation of duty by FIFA.
“The decision shows how out of touch FIFA is with the real issues football still has to deal with today,” he told AFP.
“FIFA wants to close down issues not by tackling them, but by just not talking about them.”
Regine Woods of ‘Kick It Out’ said they had sought clarification after hearing the news.
“I’m reassured by a lot of the things I heard when we held talks with FIFA here (Manchester),” she said.
“I was reassured to hear the secretary-general when she spoke about educating people.
“We’ve come far but there’s still a lot to do.”