Since 2002, the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup™ have been dedicated to raising awareness of the need to eradicate racism and all forms of discrimination from football. Ahead of tomorrow's first day of quarter-final action, FIFA.com sat down with FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke to discuss the important initiative and how football can impact the fight against discrimination.

FIFA.com: It is becoming a tradition to celebrate Anti-Discrimination days at the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup? What is the aim of this initiative?
Secretary Jérôme Valcke: Every year the FIFA Anti-Discrimination Days take place at one of FIFA’s competitions to raise awareness of the need to eradicate racism and other forms of discrimination from football. It is the fourth time since the 2002 FIFA World Cup that we dedicate the quarter-finals of the World Cup to this topic. The objective is to use the platform of football’s flagship events to send a clear signal to the millions of people around the globe that follow the event to join the fight against all forms of discrimination. Because of its impact, particularly through the influence of players on the younger generations, football can play an important role in this quest.

Concretely, what activities will be performed on those special days?
As has been the case in previous years, there will be a special pre-match protocol, at which the team captains read a declaration against discrimination. Then the teams and referees come together at the centre circle, showing a message to demonstrate football’s stance against discrimination. In addition, this year we have launched a social media campaign inviting players, and particularly fans, to #SayNoToRacism via a photo of themselves (a “selfie”) on their social media platforms. A random selection of the selfies will be displayed on the giant screens in the stadiums hosting the matches in Fortaleza, Salvador, Rio and Brasilia. Again, the aim is to raise awareness, as we believe education is key in order to fight this issue, which affects society as a whole.

Unfortunately we still see cases of discrimination and racism in stadiums. What else is FIFA doing to eradicate this problem and shouldn’t it impose greater sanctions, too?
FIFA takes a firm, zero-tolerance stance against any form of discrimination and racism. This is enshrined in the FIFA Statutes and further developed in the FIFA Disciplinary Code and the FIFA Code of Ethics. The FIFA Task Force against Racism and Discrimination was created last year and thanks to its efforts, the FIFA Congress passed a strong resolution on the fight against racism and discrimination with a new set of sanctions, including point deductions, expulsion from a competition or relegation. One recent example is the case involving the Croatian international Josip Šimunić, who was sanctioned by FIFA with a ten-match suspension for discriminatory behaviour following a 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ European play-off match. Also recently, during the World Cup qualifiers, Hungary, Bulgaria and Ukraine were sanctioned to play behind closed doors following the discriminatory behaviour of their fans. FIFA has shown that it will be tough on offenders.

At this World Cup, some of the decisions of the Disciplinary Committee on this topic have been widely discussed in the media. Some say FIFA has not been strong enough.
There is a clear catalogue of sanctions, but what is not always clearly understood is that the Disciplinary Committee, which is an independent body, can only take decisions based on legal grounds and demonstrated facts. Everybody can have an opinion based on what they see on TV, but the Disciplinary Committee has the burden of proof and cannot rely on elements that are subject to interpretations. They cannot be subjective; they need evidence to back any decision. Everybody understands that for a civil court. It’s the same for our disciplinary bodies.

If the problem is the difficulty getting clear evidence particularly when it comes to the behaviour of fans, shouldn’t we have people in charge of controlling potential incidents inside the stadiums?
The inclusion of anti-discrimination officers is one of a series of initiatives in the areas of education and sanctions that have been recommended by the FIFA Task Force against Racism and Discrimination. It has been implemented in the past in Europe through independent observers, and FIFA even tested it at some ‘high-risk’ matches in the qualification rounds of the FIFA World Cup. However, for an event like the FIFA World Cup, the integration of anti-discrimination officers requires comprehensive preparation. Due to its complexity and the need for a thorough process of identification, as well as selection and training of independent experts in anti-discrimination topics from each of the participating countries, it was not expected that the project would be implemented at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Therefore, the Task Force had decided that the necessary resources should be in place for the project to be developed as soon as all elements including the selection and training of such anti-discrimination officers would be in place. This based on the experience made during trials as mentioned earlier.  This and other initiatives such as training modules for match officials continue to be developed as part of FIFA’s on-going efforts to improve its mechanisms to fight racism and discrimination in football and will be applied as well as tested at future competitions.