FIFA recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Buenos Aires Resolution, passed by the Extraordinary Congress of FIFA during a memorable meeting in the Argentinian capital on 7 July 2001. A landmark event, it stipulated that “given its global reach, power and influence, [football] has a duty to act in a responsible and progressive manner” in the struggle against discrimination.
Continuing our series of interviews dedicated to the fight against discrimination, FIFA.com spoke to FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter to discuss the numerous advances that have been made in the last ten years. The head of world football's governing body spoke with absolute candour on a subject that, while delicate, remains vitally important to FIFA and the football family.
FIFA.com: It was recently the tenth anniversary of the Buenos Aires Resolution, which declared the fight against discrimination a priority for football. What has FIFA done since then?
Joseph S. Blatter: FIFA has done a lot. In 2001, we launched FIFA’s Anti-Discrimination Days and in 2006 we launched the ‘Say No to Racism’ campaign. I’m also reminded of the ’90 Minutes for Mandela’ match in 2007, the main goal of which was to support the fight against racism. Those are just a few examples of what we’ve been doing. That said, we and society as a whole can never do enough to tackle discrimination, which is another way of saying we won’t abandon our efforts.
How exactly do you think football can help in the fight against this problem?
This sport has a power to bring people together. It’s universal. That’s why FIFA never misses a chance to reaffirm its opposition to all forms of discrimination, as we did once again via the Anti-Discrimination Day on 13 July that coincided with the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup. We're not just talking about racism here. Homophobia, sexism, sectarianism and ethnic discrimination cannot be to tolerated either. They have no more place on a football pitch or in a stadium than they do anywhere else in society – and perhaps even less a place because fair play and an acceptance of difference are the essence of football.
The subject of homophobia arose during the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Germany. What is FIFA’s stand on this issue?
We’re very clear about it. The sexual orientation of a player or coach is a private matter. People have to be able to live their lives free from all forms of discrimination.
What can FIFA do in the future to tackle discrimination?
It’s a question of education. I often say that football is a school of life because its basic principles are discipline, fair play and respect for others. FIFA runs a great number of courses which are aimed at the young, either directly or indirectly. Our Grassroots programme is the most obvious example, but a course held to help local coaches find wider success will also have an impact on youngsters. When we help member associations become more professional through our Performance programme, certain areas of the programme will affect the young players in those associations. Every single time we run courses or organise programmes like these, we insist on passing on a message of respect and tolerance, and opposition to all forms of discrimination. In short, the key is education.
Does FIFA have other means of fighting discrimination?
Yes, through our Football for Hope Movement, which supports more than 100 associations around the world, and through our work with other organisations, such as UNICEF or the Inter-American Development Bank, and other United Nations agencies and programmes. All these associations have a specific focus and all use football to pass on their message. In most cases, these associations work with children and, for many of them, their focus is the fight against discrimination. It’s painstaking work and work dedicated to education, but that’s the most effective kind.
Those efforts are focused on prevention, but what sanctions can be applied if discrimination continues to rear its head?
First of all, I’d like to cite Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes, which states that all forms of discrimination are prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion. The FIFA Statutes are the equivalent of a country’s constitution, so that’s no small matter. We also have a number of safeguards before being compelled to take the extreme measure of expelling a member association. FIFA possesses an arsenal of disciplinary measures in this area. Having said that, although I’m favour of firmness, and even if sanctions can act as an important deterrent, I remain convinced that they will never be as effective as prevention.
What do you think would be the quickest way of ridding football of this blight?
I don’t think that we can ever totally eradicate racism, in the strictest sense of the term, or all forms of discrimination from football. There’ll never be a day when we can say: “That’s it, it’s over. There’s no more racism in football.” That’s unrealistic. We’ll always need to stay vigilant, and we’re on the right track. There are fewer and fewer cases and, overall, they’re rare. Let’s hope it stays that way. Nevertheless, if we want to make sure young people understand the absurdity of discriminatory behaviour, we’ll need to get players and stars involved. The likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham are heroes for millions and millions of boys and girls, and if stars like these say over and over again that you need to be tolerant and not reject people because they’re different, then I’m convinced the message will get through. They’re a little like the big brothers of the football family.