FIFA racism task force achieved its goal

FIFA's secretary general Fatma Samoura attends the Soccerex Global Convention 2016 in Manchester, north-west England, on September 26, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Anthony Devlin

FIFA’s secretary general Fatma Samoura attends the Soccerex Global Convention 2016 in Manchester, north-west England, on September 26, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Anthony Devlin

Nothing sinister should be read into the disbanding of the FIFA task force on racism as it had simply achieved its goals, FIFA secretary-general Fatma Samoura said on Monday.

The 54-year-old Senegalese — recruited to some surprise from the United Nations in May and the first woman and non-European to serve on the FIFA executive — added FIFA could live with the perception by many that it was too soon to end the task force’s work.

“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.

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.

“There are several cases against teams and based on solid legal grounds we have taken strong measures through the sanctioning body.

“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 Tony Blair’s government, had aired his concerns when he opened the convention, addressing Samoura directly saying it was rather 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.

“We must take the toughest possible line that we are all one and won’t tolerate racism in our great game and give extremists publicity.”

Soccerex is a top sports business conference bringing together more than 3,000 delegates to Manchester over the coming three days.

Samoura’s appointment triggered scepticism over her lack of knowledge of football, but she insisted she had helped her husband run a football club in Senegal so understood many facets of the game. She also said she would not have left her role at the UN after 21 years — she worked on the UN World Food Programme and in several hotspots including Liberia, Sierra Leone and Kosovo — if she had felt FIFA was beyond redemption following s serious of massive scandals.

“The FIFA brand is very solid,” she said. “I had a very comfortable position in the UN but I was convinced by the new FIFA president Gianni Infantino it was time for a change at FIFA.

“Yes it suffered reputational damage but my presence here is how to restore trust and confidence in FIFA. I am ready to take this challenge.”

Samoura, a multi-linguist who has a masters in English and Spanish, said the worst was over for the battered governing body with the Blatter era firmly in the past and with trials of several of the former FIFA powerbrokers due to start in the United States.

“Definitely I think we are putting t behind us and we don’t want to be distracted by the past,” she said.

“My administration is separating the two things. Let’s get the investigation out of the way and put greater tools in place so as not to repeat mistakes of the past.”

Samoura said that she could bring some things she learned from the UN to the table at FIFA.

“The UN is a great school when it comes to high accountability and standards, one can draw lessons from that.

“Also tolerance. Our daily job is to make sure we use UN as a powerful tool to overcome cultural and other barriers. This is what I am bringing to FIFA — we are all equal.”

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