Dragan Stojkovic represented Yugoslavia with distinction across a glittering career that included appearances at the 1990 and 1998 FIFA World Cups™. An attacking midfielder with an impressive goalscoring ratio, Stojkovic was a shining star in a golden generation of Balkan talent during the 1980s and 1990s.
'Pixy', as the 46-year-old is nicknamed, also enjoyed significant club success, the highlight of which was a UEFA Champions League win with Marseille in 1993. Stojkovic also exelled at Red Star Belgrade and concluded his career with a starring role at J.League outfit Nagoya Grampus, the same team with which he began his coaching career in 2008.
Now in his fourth season at the club's helm, and having secured their first-ever J.League title last year, Stojkovic spoke to FIFA.com about his own experiences with discrimination and comments on football’s unique ability to deal with this problematic issue.
FIFA.com: How would you describe or define discrimination?
Dragan Stojkovic: Discrimination is irrational behaviour or acts by small groups or individuals which does not respect race, religion, skin colour or language. It is absolutely unacceptable and is something that breaks my heart.
How did you feel when your have experienced instances of discrimination?
While I have not been discriminated against, whenever I have witnessed such actions it has left me feeling socially excluded from the community which surrounds me. This issue generally happens to everyone in this world in different forms at some stage. If it occured to me, I would be completely intolerant of such behaviour.
Football promotes solidarity and has the ability to unite people from all walks of life. Our obligation in the football family must be to provide good education.
What as an individual can one do to combat racism when it happens?
Notify such incidents to the community to which you belong and, as an individual, bear in mind the feelings such acts cause and, in turn, treat others with due respect. As an individual I have a great responsibility to always provide a good example of suitable manners and behaviour, especially for the younger generations.
Within sport, is football uniquely placed to take effective action?
Football is very influential in the world of sports given it is truly appreciated worldwide. Football can therefore play a great role in taking effective action. It must teach values such as tolerance, courage, honesty and peace. Football promotes solidarity and has the ability to unite people from all walks of life. Our obligation in the football family must be to provide good education and promote solidarity.
How do you think football and FIFA can help in the fight against discrimination?
As the most influential sports organisation, the governing body's work in the area of social responsibility is crucial in tackling this problem. It is important to take positive action such as playing an educational role in the community. Personally, I know that FIFA provides a good example to support action against racism and discrimination.
Have things changed in recent years?
Thanks to FIFA’s incredible efforts, I believe that things are changing. But unfortunately we have to still combat these discriminative acts and statements that occasionally occur in stadiums. Again, what is important is that racism and discrimination are absolutely unacceptable and for these reasons, tolerance for such behaviour must be zero. With more endeavour across the globe, especially in the area of education, I believe there is an even brighter future in this area.