ROSLYN MORRIS/AIPS in GENEVA: Kevin-Prince Boateng left a United Nations event in no doubt about his feelings on the issue of racism – both in life in general and in sport in particular.
The Milan midfielder, who walked off the pitch with his team-mates during a friendly in January in protest at racist chanting, was speaking at a ceremony in Geneva to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
He said: “Racism is real, it exists here and now. You can find it on the streets, in your office and in football stadiums. It won’t go away by itself. We have a duty to face racism and to fight it.
“There is no vaccine to fight this and no antibiotics to take. It’s a dangerous and infectious virus which is strengthened by indifference and inaction.”
Speaking to a forum hosted by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the Palais de Nations Boateng told hundreds of delegates that in 2013 racism still remains a problem.
He added: “It’s not simply an argument for the history channel or something that belongs to the past or something that only happens in other countries. Racism is real, it exists here and now.”
Boateng likened the fight against racsim to fighting a deadly disease, saying: “There is no vaccine to fight this and no antibiotics to take. It’s a dangerous and infectious virus which is strengthened by indifference and inaction.
“When I played for Ghana, I learned how to fight malaria. Simple vaccines are not enough. You also have to dry out infected areas where the carriers proliferate. I think that racism and malaria have a lot in common.
“Stadiums can be places where people of different colour come to support their teams or they can be seen as stagnant areas where healthy people will be infected by racism.
“We can’t allow this to happen before our very eyes. Football stadiums, like other places, are full of young people. If we don’t fight the stagnation, many of those who are healthy today, could become infected with one of the most dangerous diseases of our time.”
Boateng told delegates that sportsmen, artists and musicians were all in a unique position to make themselves heard – “We have the possibility to reach the parts that political speeches will never reach.”
German-born Boateng praised the influence of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
He said: “History shows us how important the contributions of famous athletes can be. I can say that the fact that the president of the America shares my skin colour, has something to do not only with Martin Luther King, but also Muhammad Ali.”
Boateng was joined by Patrick Vieira, former captain of the France and current football development executive at Manchester City; William Gaillard, senior adviser to UEFA president Michel Platini; Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s head of corporate social responsibility; and Piara Powar, from Football Against Racism in Europe.
Vieira, having won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three Serie A titles and more than 100 caps for France including the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 wins, said education was the most important factor in eliminating racism.
He added: “It’s a crime with no place on the football pitch or in any other sport. It is more frequent than we think, it is dishonest and very dangerous.
“If we want to change the world tomorrow, we have to change it today, starting with the young.
“It’s a scandal that racism still exists, we have to work together as a team to eradicate this scourge. The media in particular has a role to play.”
UEFA’s Gaillard said football was a mirror of society – no better, no worse, adding: “It is our duty as football administrators to fight against all forms of discrimination.”
Gaillard said anti-semitism, discrimination against gender and homophobia were just as unacceptable as racism: “We must remain alert. Good behaviour is habit forming. Human diversity is a tremendous asset.”
FIFA’s Addiechi said Boateng’s stance was an alert that football had to step up its efforts against racism.
Addiechi said: “The ball does not discriminate and neither should we. No player should have to make the choice to walk off the field. FIFA will not tolerate racism in any form.”
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