It has been five months since Marcus Thuram took a knee in his goal celebration for Borussia Monchengladbach and thus kicked off the most powerful football anti-racism campaign. To this day we still witness footballers kneeling before kick-off to support the global movement ‘Black Lives Matter’. It has been five months of empathy and solidarity, which have brought to light all the problems black people face.
“The only way to tackle racism is by raising the standard,” said FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura at the recent AIPS Conference on Racism and Discrimination.
Usually, when FIFA speak about raising standards, the main aim is to send the message to the regional confederations among which is UEFA. This time Ms Samoura’s words reached Karl-Erik Nilsson who was representing UEFA at the conference as its First Vice-president.
“Raising the standard of education, dialogue, and implementing more initiatives,” Ms Samoura repeated.
Despite Mr Nilsson speaking about various anti-racist activities UEFA are conducting, the real question is: “How high is UEFA ready to raise the standard?” The question appears when we look at UEFA Executive Committee made of 26 people. None of whom are black.
“We have been working hard at improving diversity at UEFA,” Mr Nilsson said. “We have recently appointed additional members, including women throughout various committees, to ensure more diverse composition and to better reflect today’s society in a decision-making process.”
To understand better how much global anti-racist strategy has developed, we talked to a representative of an influential international anti-racist organisation who wanted to stay anonymous due to administrative reasons of his organisation.
He believes the ‘Black Lives Matter’ has brought some evolution into the fight against racism, but the real changes are yet to appear. He predicts the biggest advance should be exactly diversity that Mr Nilsson talked about.
“Once the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has finished, it will not be just about racism, but also about diversity. We need black people to be in the recruitment process, and we need greater representation and diversity in the institutions,” our source said, and insisted it is not only about black people, but also how many women are board members and how many women are in football at all.
“At the moment in the Frauen-Bundesliga, there is just one female head coach. I don’t even need to mention how many of them are in the men’s Bundesliga.”
The times have changed, so should the anti-racist strategy
“…Raising the standard, Ms Samoura said. “That’s why FIFA has modernised and adopted some of our activities such as FIFA Disciplinary Code which clearly says that racism and discrimination have no place in football and that FIFA will not hesitate to tackle any form of discriminatory behaviour. Our three-step procedure which applies to all FIFA competition means if discriminatory behaviour occurs, the referee has the power to deal with it.”
The Code Ms Samoura mentioned was last updated in June of 2019. In the meantime, the global consciousness on racism has reached the level which was unknown in those old times when Gianni Infantino would still sign a paper and then shake a hand of Ms Samoura without breaking social distancing rules. Time has changed.
Nicola Rizzoli, the former FIFA referee most famous of refereeing the 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina, who was also attending the conference, explained the three-step procedure.
“If a referee hears some discriminatory behaviour, he has to stop the match and make an announcement that the discriminatory behaviour is not acceptable. If the incident continues, a referee has to suspend the match by sending the players to the changing room,” Mr Rizzoli said and explained that this step sends a strong message.
“If possible, players then should return to the pitch, but if the incident continues, which will hopefully never happen again, the third step is abandoning the math definitely.”
In the meantime, the world has changed, so has the global anti-racist strategy. There are no fans in stadiums, so the three-step procedure and some other activities don’t make much sense at the moment. The question is: “Have FIFA’s and UEFA’s anti-racist strategy been outdated at this point? Are they really raising the standard?
We tried to clarify that with our source.
“The three-step procedure is just a part of the wider FIFA’s and UEFA’s anti-racist strategy, and the fact that there are no fans in stadiums at the moment doesn’t mean the problem is gone. Fans are going to get back in stadiums soon, and then the problem will reappear.”
The Black Lives Matter campaign has been extremely persistent, so even when fans are back in stadiums, it is difficult even to imagine that after seeing players taking the knee before the kick-off of a game, a fan, or a group of fans would start chanting.
“Oh, you are very wrong with this one,” the source said. “That is not how it works. There are people who see the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement as an attack on them. They believe that saying ‘black lives matter’ implies white lives don’t matter.
He says the name of that phenomena is ‘white fragility’, and that we have already witnessed it even though there are no fans in stadiums.
“We saw it straight after the restart of the Premier League, during the match between Manchester City and Burnley, when a Burnley fan flew above the Etihad stadium on an aircraft towed a banner with the words ‘white lives matter – Burnley’.
The supporter later said 60 people had contributed towards the banner and the hire of the plane, which cost £600 in total.