Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – 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”.
And the British anti-discrimination body Kick It Out — one of three nominees for the inaugural FIFA Diversity award which Samoura is due to present later Monday — condemned the timing of the decision ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, known for racist hooligans.
But Samoura, recruited to some surprise from the United Nations in May, stood by the decision when she spoke earlier on Monday.
“We can live with perception but we are taking very seriously our role as football’s governing body to fight discrimination, it is well reflected in the statutes,” said Samoura, who delivered the keynote address at the Soccerex Global Football Convention.
– Mission a success –
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.
“It had a very specific mandate and they came up with very strong recommendations and FIFA is acting on them,” said Samoura.
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.
“There are several cases against teams and based on solid legal grounds we have taken strong measures through the sanctioning body,” she said.
“Coming from the UN we must really be firm. It is really on top of the agenda of the FIFA administration.
“It is zero tolerance to discrimination on grounds of culture, racism colour of the skin and sexual orientation.”
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 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.
‘Kick It Out’ made no bones about their disappointment with FIFA’s decision.
“It is clear that organisations that are actively campaigning against racism and discrimination will be deeply disheartened to hear news of the disbandment, as they look to FIFA for leadership in a game which is so popular across the world,” read the statement.
“This is also ahead of FIFA hosting the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a country which is notorious for racism and abusive activities towards minorities.”
Prince Ali, who lost to Infantino in the FIFA presidential election earlier this year, described the FIFA view as shameful.
“Today’s announcement that FIFA is disbanding its Anti -Racism Task Force, considering its work done, is incredibly worrying,” said the 40-year-old Prince, who is a half-brother to King Abdullah of Jordan.
“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.
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