Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS: Sports Increasingly Mirror a Racist World

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 15 2005 (IPS) - When soccer was considered an unruly spectator sport in years gone by, there was the story of a referee assigned to officiate at a tension-charged football match in a Latin American country arriving in an armoured battle tank just to protect himself from a violence-prone crowd.

But according to a U.N. report on xenophobia released here, there is a new political twist to violence in the sports field – this time triggered by overt and covert racism.

“The increase in violence and openly racist incidents is illustrated not only by the actions of some supporters, but also by the comments and behaviour of coaches of famous teams who trivialise or legitimise racist or xenophobic incidents,” says Doudou Diene, a special rapporteur of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

Diene, who closely monitors “contemporary forms of racism and racial discrimination”, says that in view of the gravity of some racist acts and the coverage that they were given in the media, their condemnation and the measures taken against those responsible do not reflect the seriousness of the situation.

In a 19-page report to the current session of the General Assembly, Diene points out that racist incidents are on the increase, specifically in football.

France’s champion soccer team, which won the World Cup in 2000, was viewed as a perfect symbol of “multi-coloured integration” because the grandparents of some of the players came from Algeria, Portugal, Ghana, Argentina and Senegal.

But according to an article in a London newspaper last week, Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extremist National Front Party, dismissed the champion soccer team as a group of foreign mercenaries incapable of singing the French national anthem.

Most of France’s soccer players, the newspaper said, “come from poor suburbs similar to the ones now hit by riots”. The riots, which have continued for over two weeks in the suburbs of Paris, have traumatised France.

“Sport is a reflection of society at large,” says Djibril Diallo, director of the newly-established U.N. Office of Sport for Development and Peace.

Like many aspects of society, sport can encompass some of the worse traits of human beings, including racism, violence, discrimination, hooliganism and excessive nationalism, as well as cheating and drug abuse, he said.

“In today’s world where the international agenda is dominated by the fight against terrorism, the fear in society could turn into negative attitudes towards aliens, refugees or immigrants, because of their religions, ethnic or cultural identities,” Diallo told IPS.

However, he said, there is also an overwhelming positive value for sport which far outweighs its negative aspects.

In his report, Diene calls for “greater mobilisation of international sporting bodies” to combat racism in sport.

Joseph Blatter, president of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), has expressed “deep concern” about recent racist incidents in football.

The executive committee of FIFA, one of the world’s key governing bodies on soccer, decided last March to create a multi-ethnic team of FIFA called “Ambassadors Against Racism” that brings together leading players and coaches.

Backing FIFA is a new organisation called Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), which has published an anti-racism guide distributed to all national soccer federations, leagues and clubs in Europe.

Diene has urged international sports organisations to “take tough measures” against perpetrators of racist incidents.

A draft resolution before the current session of the General Assembly calls on FIFA, which is overseeing the 2006 World Cup in Germany, to promote “a world of sport free from racism and racial discrimination and to consider introducing a visible theme on non-racism in football”.

Asked what should be done to combat the problem, Diallo told IPS: “We, at the United Nations, are well placed to assist governments and individuals bring forward the positive aspects of sport, which are beneficial to people of all ages.”

After all, he argued, sport is one of the most universal languages of our world today. It brings people together, no matter their race, economic status or religious beliefs.

“Sport contains in itself the best tools to combat racism because through sport young people can learn the values of tolerance, teamwork, honesty as well as respect for self and others,” he said.

Diallo also said that recent developments demonstrate that the international community is turning more and more to sport to help in its efforts for development and peace.

The World Summit in September, the largest ever gathering of political leaders, cited the crucial role of sport in the outcome document, when it stated, in paragraph 145: “We underline that sport can foster peace and development and can contribute to an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding and we encourage discussions in the General Assembly for proposals leading to a Sport and Development Plan of Action.”

Furthermore, the General Assembly last month adopted a landmark resolution calling for the strengthening of activities that use sport as a tool for development and peace.

Last month, both North and South Korea, two neighbouring military rivals, announced plans to compete as a single nation for the first time at the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar and the 2008 Summer Olympics in China.

Meanwhile, both the International Federation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists have urged reporters and writers to come to terms with the growing power of sports in media.

“The sports business is a powerful force in modern journalism exercising unprecedented influence over the media market, posing new challenges for investigative reporting, and is a key driver of global media developments,” the groups said.

Republish | | Print |