Road to Russia: ProBonoMatters takes on FIFA’s anti-discriminatory campaign

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FIFA is approaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia with heightened claims of success in its anti-discrimination campaign.

ProBonoMatters is of the view that this campaign deserves much more scrutiny than it has received over the years, if it is to yield meaningful results. And so we are setting out to monitor FIFA’s anti discriminatory initiatives in order to hold the orgnaisation accountable and the course. 

Our ProBonoMatters’ FIFA anti-discrimination monitor is anchored by the formation of a new online communication channel focused on the concerned subject matter. The channel itself is pillared by a global reaching incident monitoring and reporting system. It will collect, collate, analyse and report incidences of discrimination in and around the footballing game, with a particular focus on FIFA games. This will be complemented by robust editorial features –news and views- that zooms into FIFA’s anti discriminatory narratives in the run up to Russia. 

We do this on the back of a suspicion that the FIFA narratives may have been shaped by closed conversations when they needed to be informed by the victimised masses who anchor the game of billions.  And we see a tendency to paper over the cracks as represented by the hasty decision to shut down the anti-racism task force in 2016.

The haste continued last year with FIFA declaring its anti-discrimination monitoring system, piloted during the qualifiers of the 2018 World Cup in Russia a success. We know many people who hold a different view. We think that these hasty PR postures amount to an irresponsible act amid the face of relentless racism that dogs the game.

We also have questions surrounding FIFA’s a three-step procedure of dealing with discriminatory incidents in a game. 

And so we rise to open up the conversation. We are not interested in having a dialogue with fever but we are setting out to facilitate a truly open and democratic conversation.

Our move is partly informed by a concern that Russia and the broader eastern European region comes with a particularly bad record in terms of occurrence of discriminatory incidences in and around football games. As such it must be subjected to a robust monitoring system.

We launch this conversation by highlighting critical extracts from a key FIFA document titled: Global Guide to Discriminatory Practices in Football. We have on our radar forms of discrimination like, anti-semitism, homophobia, islamophobia, racism, sexism and xenophobia.

Here follows an extract that frames the guide:

Tarnishing a beautiful game

Football is played by millions of people in every corner of the world, bringing together individuals of all nations and backgrounds across communities. At the same time football stadiums have become places where discrimination is manifested on a frequent basis – towards players, officials and fans. The practices aim to exclude or erase the dignity of other human beings based on real or perceived differences – whether they are ethnic minorities, women, LGBT+ people or disabled people.

The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”…

At football stadiums across the world, racial discrimination is directed in various forms against ethnic minorities and often, but not exclusively, against people of African descent. Despite greater awareness, racism remains one of the most commonly displayed forms of discrimination in football.

In recent years, political movements across the world have driven up the levels of anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment. These views are often spread by organised far-right groups and populist right-wing movements although it should be noted that not all forms of political discourse that advocate for, or lead to, racial discrimination are perpetrated by political groups.

And there is Sexism and misogyny

Discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation can be seen in all parts of the world. Sexism and misogyny are prevalent in many countries, making stadiums less safe for women. For women, abuse in the stands can be coupled with institutional barriers to playing or watching football.

FIFA’s regulations set out clear guidelines to protect fans and players against all forms of discrimination and provide mechanisms in the form of regulatory action to respond to any displays of discriminatory behaviour. Article 4 of the FIFA Statutes Non-discrimination, gender equality and stance against racism says that: “Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”

A societal problem

The impact of discrimination goes beyond the use of insulting words, and the patterns by which people are discriminated against in football reflect the most common forms of abuse suffered by vulnerable groups in society. The issues dealt with in this guide are part of a societal problem that affects football and uses football to perpetuate itself, but as a unique social activity with popular appeal football has a duty to protect its players, spectators and supporters, and anyone else involved, from discrimination. Sometimes this requires higher standards than those in wider society and can mean that football is expected to set a positive example for wider society to follow.

We are highlighting this extract in order to spark critical conversation. Tell us what you think of this frame of anti-discriminatory campaign by FIFA.

 info@probonomatters.co.za

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