— LONDON:  World football federation FIFA sealed a handshake with the anti-racism group Kick It Out to make a virtue out of a comment by Sepp Blatter which, inadvertently, had added fuel to the fire of the debate.

Last autumn FIFA’s president had suggested, in the wake of the John Terry and Luis Suarez rows, that heat-of-the-moment exchanges between players could best be settled by a handshake rather than a heavyweight disciplinary process.

Sepp Blatter: FIFA president but also IOC member

FIFA, at the time, was taking on the handshake motif in building a connection with the Nobel Peace Foundation, but Blatter’s comment was widely ridiculed.

It was criticised again by Lord Herman Ouseley, chair of Kick It Out, at the start of his welcome address to Blatter at a Wembley reception which marked an agreement for a closer working relationship between the two organisations.

Witnesses to the ‘marriage of minds’ included FA chairman David Bernstein, the FA’s first female board member Heather Rabatts, FIFA’s first female executive Lydia Nsekera from Burundi and African football president Issa Hayatou. Blatter, Nsekera and Hayatou are all members of the International Olympic Committee currently and conveniently in town for London 2012.

Ouseley said: “Verbal abuse goes on all the time on football pitches in this country. It is driven by prejudice, ignorance, bitterness and hatred and most incidents do get resolved with an apology and a handshake . . . but racism has not bypassed football.”

He praised football’s increasing awareness of its responsibilities but urged greater awareness of the need to combat discrimination “in boardrooms, dressing room and staff rooms.”

Turning to the international outlook, Ouseley said: “FIFA is in a lead role globally and has a key role in both the developing world . . . but also in countries which are in decline – which is where we are at – and not only to concentrate on the poorest parts of the world.”

‘Discipline and respect’

Blatter, welcoming the partnership with Kick It Out, said: “We want to launch this co-operation because you can never stop fighting against discrimination. We are doing a lot but it’s not enough.

“Racism has existed everywhere in the world since ancient times but to have racism in our game means something is wrong – because our game is based on discipline and respect. Our game is the school of life in the spirit of fair play, our game is based on discipline and respect.”

The accusations thrown at him over his original ‘handshake’ comment, had “touched me very, very much in my heart, to be told that I was a racist.”

Hence he insisted that both he and FIFA took with the utmost seriousness its responsibility. He added: “I’m sure my colleagues in FIFA will agree that, in the future, we should not have a banner which reads: Say No To Racism but, Kick It Out: Racism.”


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