“The first time I was discriminated against, I was shocked. I was younger, so it was difficult to take in. Every time I touched the ball there was a chant, there were monkey sounds – it hurt a lot. After, I would think to myself I have to fight against this, I have to show I am stronger than this.”
Some of the negative experiences throughout Yaya Toure’s career lend weight to his position as a consultant on the FIFA Task Force against Racism and Discrimination. The Côte d’Ivoire captain was amongst a panel of speakers from across the world of football at Wembley Stadium to discuss FIFA’s Anti-Discrimination Monitoring System for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ Preliminary Competition, implemented as part of a range of projects in the hope that future generations of footballers will not experience discrimination.
“To be involved is an important thing I want to be a part of,” Toure told FIFA.com. “I have been involved with a lot of things relating to discrimination and racism in football and I think now I'm the voice of the people. I want to try to give them a voice and adjust that for them so they can express these things.”
Toure shares the belief that everybody has a right to play free from discrimination or prejudice.
“In this sport, on the pitch or wherever else we are doing our job, it is very important people know we are human beings, we want to be treated the same way,” the Manchester City midfielder said. “Football is about togetherness and happiness. My point of view is to show them they need to change or else there will be a radical sanction. I have full trust in FIFA. We know this is difficult but with education we hope to tell people a good way to act. We want to express ourselves, we want to enjoy life.”
Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s Head of Sustainability, agreed with Toure’s message, and said that the Anti-Discrimination Monitoring System for the World Cup qualifiers was the first step on a journey to Russia.
“The monitoring system is one of the activities that is part of the plan for 2018 and beyond,” Addiechi explained. “This will focus on the World Cup qualifiers and the FIFA Confederations Cup. We will start analysing the monitoring system itself so we will have an improved system for the finals, where the idea is to have a system for every match of the World Cup. We have a responsibility because it is our event. The World Cup is an event that has to be for all.”
Making the World Cup, and football as a sport, as inclusive as possible takes effort from a number of key partners and organisations, and Piara Powar, Fare’s Executive Director and a member of the FIFA Task Force, made clear that the collaborative effort between his organisation and FIFA will not be easy.
“It’s very difficult actually,” Powar said. “Our approach will be to have a series of partners. The outcome could be that there will be associations banned or asked to play behind closed doors. There will be some pain as a result of this process, but there must be a realisation that without that pain people will not be able to understand how to tackle those issues. [To identify high-risk matches] we have a matrix which consists of between six to eight points of analysis, which includes national history or tensions, stadium and type of players that constitute that particular national team.”
The difficulty of the task ahead was not lost on Howard Webb, referee of the 2010 World Cup Final and also a member of the FIFA Task Force against Racism and Discrimination.
“It’s an on-going fight but we're determined to do everything we can to educate people, to prevent and sanction people who don't listen to those messages,” Webb said. “Sport is all about people coming together, playing together, watching together, aiming for a common cause of winning that game,” Webb continued. “But particularly it's about team spirit, it's about people being tolerant and football is such a power for good, so it can't afford to be associated with any sort of discrimination in any shape or form.”
Webb maintains that football is indeed for all, focussing on those forms of discrimination that do not come under the banner of racism.
“It is easy to slip into the mindset that we are just talking about racism, but we're not,” Webb explained. “Anti-discrimination forms a huge part of it and our discussions have involved aspects around homophobia, gender, disability. So we've looked at a range of areas where people are discriminated against and we feel we can make a positive impact. So it's not just focussing on racism, as important as that is, we are looking at all aspects of making the football environment around the world a better place.”
Heather Rabbatts, Chair of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board and a consultant to the FIFA Task Force against Racism and Discrimination, made clear that the process for implementing the system for the World Cup qualifiers, and fighting all forms of discrimination in football, was a team effort including players, match officials, member associations and FARE.
“One of the most important elements is how we all learn from each other,” Rabbatts explained. “We try to share best practise and there are a number of elements in the monitoring system that we really welcome seeing there. So I think collaboration is hugely important.
“Football for all is absolutely a message we champion here at the FA, and indeed with our work with our colleagues from Europe and with FIFA, so that football is a sport that everyone can enjoy, participate and play.”