Racism has no place in football. FIFA is actively
broadcasting this message around the globe and deploying all the
means at its disposal to eliminate this form of discrimination. The
battle against racism is being fought even harder than ever at the
FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007.
Racism is not a simple concept to define, because it manifests itself in a number of forms. Nevertheless, the most common form is based on skin colour as a visible point of ethnic differentiation. Paradoxically, players' increased mobility across national and continental borders, and steady improvements in measures to integrate newcomers in their destination countries, has served to intensify the problem among an intolerant minority.
Saturday's match between Austria and the USA in Toronto provides a shining example of successful integration. Forty-nine percent of the city's inhabitants were born outside Canada. A plethora of countries of origin will be represented when the players run out at the National Soccer Stadium. The Austrians feature individuals with Slovakian, Czech, Turkish and Bosnian roots, while US superstar and skipper Freddy Adu and team-mate Ofori Sarkodie were born in Ghana.
Perhaps the ultimate stories of successful integration are provided by Rubin Okotie, Andre Akpan and Amaechi Igwe. All three share a common background of Nigerian parentage. "My father comes from Nigeria and my mom is American," explains USA and Harvard University starlet Akpan. "My father introduced me to football at a very young age. He owns an indoor football arena in Dallas, and I used to spend all my time there. I'm still a big fan of Nigeria - and the USA - at major tournaments."
Austrian opponent Rubin Okotie, son of a Nigerian father and an Austrian mother, shares a similar dual allegiance. He would be thrilled if his side came up against Nigeria, although the earliest that could happen is in the Final. "Obviously that would be tremendous for me, a sensational experience, but naturally I'd be an Austrian if it happened. I live there, it's where I have my friends, and I think of myself as Austrian."
The third member of the trio has an even more intriguing footballing heritage. Amaechi Igwe's father Tony appeared at the 1968 Olympic Football Tournament in Mexico City, and captained Nigeria in the qualifying competitions for the 1970 and 1974 FIFA World Cups.
All these players embody the transcendent power of the game and a strict rejection of racism. Austria's Okotie is aware that the battle is not yet won. "Obviously, you do get incidents from time to time. It hits you hard, and it hurts." FIFA's Anti-Discrimination Days covering the quarter-final matchdays are of vital importance to these and all players.
As is now the tradition, the four quarter-finals on Saturday and Sunday are dedicated to the fight against racism. The team captains will read out a statement before kick-off, utterly rejecting all forms of discrimination in football and society with the words "No to racism". The teams then unite to line up with the match officials before kick-off, displaying a banner to the crowd bearing the slogan "Say no to racism".