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United colours of football

Despite football’s apex body FIFA adopting several measures to curb racism, the age-old prejudice continues to tarnish the image of the world’s most popular sport.

As recently as last May, FIFA announced several new steps to strengthen football’s fight against racism. The new sanctions include employment of anti-discriminatory officers at games, a minimum five-match ban against those found guilty, tougher financial penalties and introduction of a hotline for players and fans to report cases of racial abuse.

However, despite all the sanctions, racism again raised its ugly head last week with Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure being allegedly subjected to racist chants by the supporters of hosts CSKA Moscow in a Champions League group stage match which the visitors won 2-1.

The Ivory Coast international claimed he was racially abused by the fans who called him ‘Black Monkey.’ After the match, Toure even threatened players from Africa might decide to boycott the 2018 FIFA World Cup, scheduled to be held in Russia.

Toure, who spoke some Russian after playing two seasons with Ukraine’s Metalurg Donetsk, was adamant the chanting was directed specifically at him. ‘Of course (I was aware). It is quite disappointing. It is unbelievable and very, very sad. We want to stop that and UEFA have to be strong, maybe close the stadium.’ City manager Manuel Pellegrini added: ‘It is a pity that these things happen and I hope that the right measures (are taken).’

Though officials of the Russian club vehemently denied the charge citing television footage which they claimed didn’t show any use of racial slurs, European football’s governing body UEFA, following initial probe, has ordered partial closure of CSKA Moscow stadium during its next Champions League home tie. A statement released by UEFA on 30 October read: ‘The fight against racism is a high priority for UEFA. The European governing body has a zero-tolerance policy towards racism and discrimination on the pitch as well as in the stands.’

Football’s image for long has been tainted by several high-profile incidences of racism, particularly in recent times. From Liverpool striker Luis Suarez’s abuse of Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in October 2011 to AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng’s decision to walk off the field following abuses from the stands in a friendly last January, racism is still rife in international football irrespective of the strict measures put in place to wipe it out completely.

Apart from Russia, many other major European countries, Italy in particular, have been found guilty of racial discrimination. The victims are mostly coloured players from different parts of the globe who constitute a major chunk of footballers playing in different clubs across Europe. If Toure’s threat to boycott 2018 World Cup finds support from bulk of the African footballers, it might put to risk the fate of the mega event, which, FIFA announced recently, will have as many as 40 countries participating.

In order to take a firmer grip on the menace of racism, UEFA is mulling to implement stricter measures which include eliminating guilty squads from taking part in major competitions as well as deducting points of teams whose supporters make racial comments from the stands.

In a recent development, the Ukrainian national team was made to play a World Cup qualifier at home behind closed doors after their supporters made racist remarks in a match against San Marino played on 6 September. A FIFA statement read: ‘FIFA was informed by FARE (Football Against Racism Europe) that several racist and discriminatory incidents were apparently perpetrated by local supporters during the match, in particular by displaying neo-Nazi banners and making ‘monkey noises and gestures’ as well as Nazi salutes,’ said a FIFA statement. Ukraine were fined 45,000 Swiss francs (around $50,000) and were made to play in an empty stadium against Poland on 11 October.

Earlier this month, FIFA outlined its plan to create a league table of countries which have problems with racism and discrimination in sports.FIFA delegate Tokyo Sexwale told a United Nations forum on racism and football the global ‘barometer’ is ‘very key’ to the governing body’s work against discrimination. The South African former anti-apartheid activist said FIFA will organize a summit on racism with the Nelson Mandela Foundation ‘early next year.’ Sexwale said the racism barometer should ‘tell that society that the conduct of your sporting people is bringing your country down.’

Sexwale, a Liverpool fan, cites the case of the club’s forward Luis Suarez, who served an eight-match ban for racially insulting an opponent in 2011. FIFA will give more details of its anti-discrimination project at a conference in Qatar in December.
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