If you’re like me, you are probably trying to forget that the World Cup is sponsored by FIFA, because just hearing the word “FIFA” sends little shots of rage through your veins, but you love the World Cup, and that makes you feel conflicted and sad. Unfortunately for me, though, FIFA is pretty set on convincing us that FIFA is actually just a nice group of socially conscious and tolerant guys. And of course, nothing is more effective for spreading a message than the almighty power of a hashtag. Look closely and you’ll notice that FIFA’s #SayNoToRacism tag has been plastered between the McDonald’s #FryFutbol ads on every field.
Here’s the deal. FIFA, along with the help of some of this year’s star players, like Neymar and Lionel Messi, is asking fans to “say no to racism with a selfie.” Fans around the world can participate by uploading images of themselves holding a sign that says “#SayNoToRacism” to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and a random sampling of the submitted selfies will be displayed before kick-off at the quarter-finals. Oh, and I guess somehow racism is alleviated in the process. Hopefully.
But of all the problems that plague humanity and consequently, the sport of football, why did FIFA choose to target racism? In 2013, after a series of racism-related incidents stirred controversy in the sport, FIFA launched its Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination, chaired by Jeffrey Webb. I don’t know about you, but the name “task force” kind of always smells like bullshit to me. Kind of like those silly operational names that the United States gives their military campaigns, like “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and “Operation Desert Sabre” (originally called Operation Desert Sword, but I get it, sabres are cooler than swords). Oh, and FIFA will also launch its Anti-Discrimination Days will on July 4.
Before applauding FIFA’s attempt at defending human rights, you should probably have a huge grain of salt ready.
Creating the Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination may imply that FIFA has stepped up to the task of combatting racism in the sport, but it’s difficult to take those efforts seriously, considering FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter’s tone-deaf responses to incidents of racism in football. When AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off the field after being racially abused by fans of Italy’s Pro Patria in 2013, Blatter did not support Prince-Boateng’s efforts to stand against racism, instead saying that players should have gone on with the game. Perhaps recognizing its blunder, FIFA later invited Prince-Boateng to join the Task Force, which is basically the equivalent of doing absolutely nothing about it. The task force seems to be where controversies are sent to die.
Blatter went as far as to deny the existence of racism in football altogether in 2011, saying players who are racially abused on the field should simply shake hands and move on. But he is perfectly happy to acknowledge that racism exists when it suits him , as he did when he accused the media of racism for claiming that bribery played a role Qatar’s winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Earlier this month, the head of FIFA told the Sydney Morning Herald: “Once again there is a sort of storm against FIFA relating to the Qatar World Cup. Sadly there’s a great deal of discrimination and racism and this hurts me.” Wait, let me play you a sad song on the world’s tiniest violin.
FIFA’s scandals aren’t just limited to turning a blind eye to racism and discrimination, but also include human rights violations. John Oliver’s recent rant is a great primer on all of FIFA’s atrocities, if you weren’t already familiar with them yet. Recent causes for concern include FIFA’s forcing Brazil to lifts its ban on the sale of alcohol in football stadiums so that Budweiser, one of this year’s sponsors, can sell beer at the World Cup, despite the fact that alcohol was outlawed in Brazilian football stands to prevent violence. And of course, one can’t forget the that people are actually dying as they prepare for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar as we speak.
To add insult to injury FIFA is one of those assholes that thinks all of Africa is the same, and mistakenly displayed Niger’s flag instead of Nigeria’s in the opening ceremony in Sao Paolo. Granted, your average person could probably name about a tenth of the countries in Africa, but FIFA really should get that shit straight if it insists on representing the entire world in football.
— Cameron Laws (@lawseyitfc) June 12, 2014
Bribery, modern-day slavery, privileging the sale of Budweiser over public safety, thinking African nations are interchangeable, yeah, not looking great, FIFA.
FIFA isn’t misguided in hoping that football can be used for a greater good. Pope Francis, noted football fan, recorded a video message in which he stated that we must overcome greed and racism in sport rather than promote it. The Pope is a pretty big deal, but the likelihood of FIFA launching a Task Force Against Greed is about as high as Nigeria’s chances at winning this year’s World Cup. And we know how much FIFA likes task forces.
The goal of the #SayNoToRacism campaign is noble, but it reminds me too much of the anti-drug programs I was subjected to in elementary school, whose overriding mantra was “just say no to drugs”. But unlike smoking marijuana, racism isn’t something you can just opt out of. Racism isn’t a problem contained to individual choices, rather an institutionalized force. Waking up and saying, “I think I’m just not going to participate in racism anymore” may be commendable, but probably won’t create much global impact.
It’s also notable that FIFA has acknowledged that education is key to fighting racism. Though perhaps they should ponder the irony in those statements, considering that getting Brazil ready for this World Cup cost the equivalent of around 61% of the country’s education budget. And I’m pretty sure Brazil was hoping they’d get more out of the whole “hosting the World Cup” thing than extremely bad press, public outrage and disillusioned citizens.
If FIFA really wanted to fight racism and discrimination, they could start by putting the profits reaped from the tournament into helping the thousands of Brazilians living in favelas who were forced out of their homes in advance of the World Cup, the majority of which are of African descent, and 8.4% of which remain illiterate into adulthood. But this is FIFA we’re talking about, so I won’t hold my breath.
(Feature Image via FIFA)