INTERVIEW by KEIR RADNEDGE
—– Choose ‘a big man for a big job’ appears to be the principle applied by FIFA in appointing vice-president Jeffrey Webb to head up the world federation’s anti-racism and discrimination taskforce.
It’s not as if the Cayman Islander does not have much else on his plate after spending most of the first year of his CONCACAF presidency trying to steer the central and North American confederation back into the international mainstream.
Measures along the way include studying to import goal-line technology into the Gold Cup this coming summer and coping with a difficult FIFA delegate election matching two political heavyweights in Mexico’s Justino Compean and the United States’ Sunil Gulati.
Now, all of this Webb has taken on leading a fight which will be tormenting society (and, hence, also football) long beyond his own tenure within the world game.
Webb has no illusions about the complex network of issues facing him – as he demonstrated in interviews on the side of the International Board meeting in Edinburgh.
What is the role and scope of this new taskforce?
Jeffrey Webb: There are two main elements as I see it. Firstly we’ll be reviewing the current sanctions for anti-discrimination. The second is an education process, where I want to engage players, the broader football community and non-governmental organisations.
Do you think football has done enough to tackle racism, in particular?
President Blatter at the Strategic Committee said we’ve been talking a long time about these issues but now we have to look at this issue again. Players have clearly not been supported enough, and this is a travesty. Players work hard, the game is their life, their occupation, and we need to do more to support them.
You mentioned fines. Should the sanctions be stronger?
I don’t think financial instruments are enough. Fines have clearly not acted as a deterrent and are not working. We need to engage clubs, member associations, some NGOs and campaign groups, and then if there are consecutive infringements, punishments have to follow.
The time for talking is over. It’s time to put proper things in place . . . It’s like in society, we know that if we break the law there will be consequences. Racism is unacceptable. The football family has to take a look in the mirror.
Would you support relegation as a sanction?
How would you react if you were a player suffering abuse out on the pitch?
I can’t say what I would do. All games, situations are different. For example, what would happen if a player were being abused in the World Cup final?
But I must say I give Kevin-Prince Boateng great credit [for walking off in a friendly in Italy] and also the [Milan] players that stood with him and who took that action. I give them credit for standing up and at the end of the day we cannot tolerate it. We need to find solutions.
Why do you think there has been a resurgence of racism in the game globally?
I don’t know. Just because racism exists in society, it doesn’t mean we have to tolerate it. As a football family we have to sit down, and look at ourselves in the mirror.
Do people of colour really have the chance, or equal opportunity to coach or become involved in football administration? I want to have the chance to sit down with players, people who have been victimised, and listen to their experiences.
Were you shocked by some of the racist incidents in English football involving players such as John Terry and Luis Suarez?
It is a huge concern to be honest. I think the incidents were unacceptable. The FA has been very aggressive in their anti-racism campaign and if these incidents exist in an environment such as the Premier League then it begs the question of what happens in some other leagues were they don’t have the resources and the will and the desire demonstrated by the FA over the years.
What are the next steps for your taskforce?
The plan is for more concrete proposals to be discussed and formalised at the executive committee on March 20 and 21.
I would hope for the task force to comprise representatives from FIFA’s six confederations, and also to involve some campaign groups, who have been fighting to eradicate discrimination for many, many years.
I have very good relations with the FA in England, and I will visit their chairman and their equality team shortly.
Would you like both victims and perpetrators?
I would also like to have a round-table discussion to talk to the players and get their input, get some suggestions from them and learn from their experiences.
Obviously there are a number of players who have been victimised, plus we would like to hear both sides really.
The mood in the Strategic Committee was that ‘enough is enough’. We have to try and get to the root of why such behaviour exists, and by speaking to different people across the game, I hope we can affect change, change behaviour, and also ensure that people have an equality of opportunity to get involved at whatever level in the game.
# # # #
Also at www.WorldSoccer.com
# # # #