FIFA against racism: a decade of milestones

Football is universally and deservedly known as ‘the beautiful game’. But even the most beautiful of things have ugly defects, and football, which is no exception, has racism.

Albeit a serious problem, it is one on the decline - in no small part due to the Buenos Aires Resolution, which was passed by the Extraordinary Congress of FIFA during a monumental meeting in the Argentinian capital on 7 July 2001. To mark its tenth anniversary, FIFA.com will begin publishing interviews on racism and discrimination in football with a series of personalities, starting with Anthony Baffoe. A Germany-born diplomat’s son, the 45-year-old is in an ideal position to share his views on the topic, given that he played international football for African giants Ghana and club football in Europe, Asia and South America, and because he is one of multiple celebrities to have helped FIFA in the enduring fight against racism since the passing of the Buenos Aires Resolution.

FIFA had, of course, been committed to the cause long before then. “FIFA took the strongest stand possible in the fight against racism by expelling apartheid South Africa in 1961 and readmitting them [in 1991] after the release of Nelson Mandela,” explained Tokyo Sexwale, the High Commissioner to the organisation’s 'Say no to Racism' campaign.

However, to combat the rapid increase in footballers leaving their homeland for foreign shores, which subsequently created potential for the problem to enhance, FIFA elected to act more aggressively against racism by passing the Buenos Aires Resolution in 2001. Some of the steps it has taken thereafter include:

2002: FIFA started holding world days against discrimination and racism - “Racism is a blight that we must eradicate forcefully and resolutely,” said FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter during one. “Football has a unifying power that can and must be used to combat discrimination of all kinds.”

2002: Celebrities join FIFA's fight - FIFA enlisted the help of a number of football’s celebrities to campaign against racism in football, including Sir Bobby Charlton, Thierry Henry, Mia Hamm, Pele, Michel Platini and Lilian Thuram.

2004: Code of Ethics approved - The FIFA Executive Committee approved a Code of Ethics, which included a statute that “officials, players and players’ agents may not act in a discriminatory manner, especially with regard to ethnicity, race, culture, politics, religion, gender or language.”

2006: amendment to art. 55 of FIFA Disciplinary Code - The FIFA Executive Committee approved an amendment to article 55 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code, at the proposal of President Blatter, allowing for very strict sanctions to be imposed after acts of racism or discrimination in football.

2006 - ‘Say no to Racism’ campaign. FIFA launched its ‘Say no to Racism’ campaign in April 2006. Months later at the FIFA World Cup™, large ‘Say no to Racism’ banners were displayed prominently during the pre-match formalities, while anti-racism mini-spots were made available for free to all TV broadcasters of the tournament.

2007 - ’90 minutes for Mandela” game. FIFA used the ’90 minutes for Mandela’ match, which was contested between an African and Rest of the World XIs, to aid the fight against racism. Over 35,000 watched the likes of Ruud Gullit, George Weah, Emilio Butragueno and Samuel Eto’o in action, with millions more watching via television in more than 150 countries across the globe.

2010: Anti-Discrimination days at South Africa 2010 - The captains of the teams playing South Africa 2010 quarter-finals on 30 June and 1 July, which were FIFA Anti-Discrimination Days, read pre-match pledges against racism. “[Football] is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers,” said Mandela. “It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”