Invited by the FIFA President to talk about racism in football, Lilian Thuram spoke in front of the FIFA Executive Committee on Thursday 16 March in Zurich, Switzerland. Juventus' French international defender, who has won all there is to win for both club and for country, repeated his arguments regarding the threat racism represents to his beloved sport. And his is clearly a voice which carries weight, for the executive body has already decided to authorise stricter sanctions in proven cases of racism ( click here for more information ). Read on for key extracts.
What does it mean to you to be given an audience by world football's highest authority to talk about racism?
I first thanked the FIFA President and Executive for inviting me and giving me the chance to raise an issue I regard as extremely important. The point I make is a simple one: racist behaviour within stadiums is unacceptable. It damages the game of football, which is supposed to be all about bringing people together and uniting them. Football has become a global spectacle, so it's time to act.
Why are we witnessing this phenomenon?
Racism exists in all societies, it's no secret. And football is not immune to it. There are handfuls of so-called supporters pretty much everywhere who use stadiums to spread their message. Since football matches are sometimes broadcast all over the world, it offers them a platform that's too good to miss. Look at Italy: I'm often asked how I can manage to keep playing there despite all the racism. But only a tiny minority are involved! Nevertheless, these people give a bad image of Italian football, which in its vast majority is not racist at all!
What feelings come over you in these moments, when you're on the pitch or watching your television? Anger, rage?
No, not predominately. I feel sadness. People who behave in a racist manner are unfortunate. Racism comes from a lack of awareness about people and things. It is born out of ignorance. We are one race, the human race. It's as simple as that. We need to use football to educate people, because racism flies in the face of sporting and human values.
How can racism be eradicated from the stadiums?
Everyone needs to be involved. For the Executive Committee, it has come down to sporting sanctions, like the deduction of points from clubs that turn a blind eye to this behaviour. I largely support this course of action, as financial penalties have their limitations: the clubs pay up and at the next match, it starts up again. If you take points away from clubs, people will be a bit more disciplined. That way, the supporters will be sorted out naturally.
Certain football figures have suggested stopping matches as soon as racist chanting is heard from the stands. What's your opinion?
Personally, I wouldn't walk out of a stadium for that reason. It would only encourage the small minority and penalise the genuine supporters. When you hear racist shouts or insults, they don't tend to come from two or three isolated spectators but from organised groups. The club directors could easily identify and ban them, as they've done with the hooligans, for example.
Do you think the clubs would accept being held responsible for the bad behaviour of a section of their crowd?
Football has to start cleaning up its act. The clubs have never been obliged to do anything to stop it, but this behaviour is going on in their stadiums, especially at league games. It's a bit sad, but sometimes people need the threat of punishment before they'll step back into line. The clubs and associations now have no choice but to take action. They will have to find ways to rid the game of this scourge.