British peer Lord Ouseley visited the Home of FIFA on Monday 23 January to meet with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter to talk about football’s continual fight against all forms of discrimination.
Lord Ouseley is the chair of Kick It Out, a UK-based body which works throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and work for positive change. Kick It Out plays a leading role in the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network, has been cited as an example of good practice by FIFA and is commonly known as football's equality and inclusion campaign.
During 2011, FIFA.com published a collection of interviews with the likes of Steffi Jones, the women’s footballing legend, former Ghana defender Anthony Baffoe and Oman goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi about varying forms of discrimination in the game, and how to tackle it. With Lord Ouseley’s visit to the Home of FIFA seemed a fitting way to begin our 2012 series.
FIFA.com: Lord Ouseley, tell us about your visit to the Home of FIFA today...
Lord Ouseley: We had a meeting with the FIFA President and as a result we are assured of his commitment to fighting racism and other forms of discrimination. The commitment of FIFA is well established and documented. FIFA’s regulations are explicit about how to deal with discrimination both on and off the pitch.
More than 300 million people all over the world are involved with football and it is a huge task to try and overcome the different difficulties which exist in every single country. There is a huge amount of work to be done, but there is a willingness to take on the challenges. That is the most important thing. It's more than tokenism. What we have to do is see how we can all work together and move forward. That's been the message of today's visit. There is scope for building on the positives. There will be much more learning and sharing of experiences, information and expertise.
How would you define discrimination?
Discrimination is quite simply treating someone less equally than someone else for no justifiable reason. There are instances where you would discriminate quite reasonably, by providing more facilities for people who are disabled, because that enables them to get some degree of access to fair treatment than they otherwise would have been able to.
Is it ever a good thing to discriminate positively?
To give someone an advantage is to deny someone fair treatment. If that's what positive discrimination entails then I'm not in favour of it. I think what we have to do is to ensure that we remove the barriers which stop people from being treated equally.
Why does discrimination in football exist?
I think discrimination in football is related to the attitudes some people hold against other people. Firstly, there is discrimination on the grounds of race and colour. People have irrational bigotry, hatred and prejudices that make them to behave in the way they do. That is the most fundamental and obvious way in which discrimination occurs. But it also occurs in football in the same way that it manifests itself in society; against women, against people with disabilities, against people on the grounds of any characteristic you can think of. People who are in an advantaged position and are influential and powerful are the ones who are most likely to discriminate, because they are the ones who are most likely to get away with it. They can do it in subtle ways; they can do it within the confines of policies and processes.
How can FIFA help combat discrimination?
FIFA has many programmes which are designed to tackle inequality, to tackle discrimination and to draw attention to lack of fairness where it exists. It can support people in countries who are doing things to try and deal with discrimination and exclusion. It can also take action through disciplinary processes. I think one the most important elements of what FIFA does is to try and make sure that it has the capacity to empower people who are disadvantaged to take action themselves by providing support.
In its regulations FIFA is geared up to take action against those national associations which are not in compliance or breaching them. It is also in a position to ensure that through education and training, match commissioners and match officials are properly trained to execute their duties and responsibilities in ways which protect the objective of ensuring fair treatment and non-discrimination and to promote the values that FIFA has, including that of respect and fair play for all.
So, FIFA plays a very important role in raising awareness, promoting the best values that football can bring to the sporting and wider world at a local and global level. It also has the worldwide ability to influence action at grassroots level which enables people to contribute and make progress in overcoming all forms of disadvantage.
Why is football so important in the fight against discrimination?
Football is well-placed because of the vast number of people that play the game worldwide. It's a simple game and many people across the globe who can't afford to play football in an organised setting do so informally. That's the value of football; the competition, the participation, the engagement, the fun. However, prejudice, bigotry, hatred and ignorance which is not created by football, but exists in all of us to some degree, there is a danger of that infecting the game.
Football has to play a part in combating discrimination because it can reach out to people. It makes people interact and connect. That's why football has a great role to play in contributing to social cohesion and inclusion. It can’t solve all the issues, but football can have a hugely positive impact on people’s lives.
Is there a danger of becoming complacent?
I think you always have to freshen up your messages. Kick It Out and other campaigns are always looking at what more can be done, what should be done differently or what new problems are cropping up. The problem is that when you get to a point where you can see you have made progress, the process which has taken you there might not be the most appropriate one anymore.
In England we have had a few high-profile cases which have occurred at a similar time recently. Because of that and because everyone is concerned about it, some have said that there is a real problem. But I think it's an over exaggeration to say that. The problems which exist now have always been there and they're not as bad as they were several years ago.
We must never allow the negative to rise up above the positive because things have improved and a huge number of people are doing a lot of good things in the continuing battle against discrimination.