Pape Diouf: Football brings people together
© AFP

Busy but happy after a dramatic weekend in France, Marseille President Pape Diouf visited FIFA Headquarters in Zurich on Tuesday 14 April, where he met FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter in the wake of OM's rise to the top of the Ligue 1 standings. The race for honours in the French championship was far from being the only subject on Diouf's mind, however, the wily Senegalese official having previously served as an agent and sports journalist before taking charge of the Stade Velodrome outfit in 2004.

The two presidents discussed a whole range of issues, including the fight against racism, the '6+5' initiative, the running of European clubs and the standard of competition in the French game. After their meeting, Diouf took a moment to speak with FIFA.com.

FIFA.com: Pape Diouf, what brings you to FIFA Headquarters?
Pape Diouf: This is a courtesy visit first of all, because I'm in regular contact with FIFA's Director of International Relations, Jerome Champagne. We talk about a number of subjects together, like African football, for example. Because of that, we naturally thought it would be a good thing for me to meet the FIFA President.

What did you discuss with President Blatter?
I gave my opinions, I listened and we spoke about a lot of things; it was a very instructive meeting. We touched on the various problems of football internationally: the new rules in European football, the Bosman ruling, the Webster ruling, corruption and Africa, where I am from originally. Aside from being above all friendly, the discussion was very rewarding.

You have often spoken about the fight against racism, which is an issue close to your heart. What are your views on the subject?
First of all, I'm not fighting against racism on my own. International bodies, including FIFA and in particular the President of FIFA, have made it a central theme. There isn't a speech or an initiative which doesn't set out to eradicate this form of violence. Violence on the pitch can kill the spirit of the game, but violence in the stands is just as harmful. Because of that we need to combat it.

Do you think the current sanctions are adequate and what further measures would you implement?
I have personally been on the wrong end of this type of violence during European matches and the sanctions imposed on the clubs in question are nothing more than symbolic. It's time to bring in heavier punishments. First of all, we need to succeed in doing what the English have done, by which I mean get rid of the troublemakers. For that, we have to identify the stadiums where these things go on, find the guilty parties, ban them from the venue and make sure that the clubs which tolerate this type of behaviour are punished more heavily, even if it means deducting points. Otherwise, if the sanctions are to be purely financial, they need to be a real deterrent.

Do you think that will be enough to solve this problem?
We have to pursue several different avenues to give ourselves a veritable arsenal of punitive measures, which will force the clubs and the troublemakers to think twice before making the same mistake again. That said, we also need to put in place a range of preventive measures. We must never stop preaching, explaining and showing that football is a unifying force not a divisive one, as President Blatter keeps saying at every opportunity, as it happens. This sport brings people together and that's its beauty.

Another big debate in football at the moment revolves around the number of ‘ineligible' players at clubs. What is your position with regards to this question?
The '6+5' initiative proposed by FIFA seems to me like a sensible solution. Sport in general, and football in particular, needs to be granted specificity. If we let the floodgates open too far, we risk killing football at the national level, at home and abroad. That wasn't the original purpose of the Bosman ruling. If football has been able to become a universal sport, it's because of its specificities. We can't forget everything that made football what it is by hiding behind new political rulings. This isn't a question of isolating football from the rest of everyday life, but it has peculiarities and qualities that other activities don't and it seems essential to me that we preserve them. Because of that, putting the '6+5' rule in place strikes me as a good compromise.

French clubs have struggled to make an impression on the European scene in the last ten years. How do you explain that?
The first explanation is an economic one. Right now, we're in the second division in economic terms. English clubs, for example, can generate huge incomes unattainable by us, whether that be in terms of television rights or gate receipts. The second factor is the existence of a regulatory body in France, the National Management Control Board (DNCG), which restricts clubs to spending what they can account for. That's not the case in other countries. I don't know whether it would be possible to introduce a DNCG at the European level, but it seems to me that we need to standardise the rules at the very least.

On the domestic stage, Marseille have just overtaken Lyon and everyone in the city believes the club can win the title. Are you a believer as well?
There's something about Marseille that makes it unique, whether for better or worse: an egg can very easily be transformed into a cow, as in the fable by [Jean] de La Fontaine. With seven matches to go, we're just one point ahead of Lyon. For some people on La Canebiere, the competition is already over and OM are champions! I'm keeping my feet on the ground; we're in a favourable position where it's fair to restate our confidence and our big ambitions, but only as long as we remain conscious that the battle with Lyon and Bordeaux will be arduous. The team with the calmer nerves will win it and I have huge faith in my team on that score!