No room for racism at this year's soccer World Cup, UN chief says

21 March 2010

Marking the 50th anniversary of the massacre of protesters taking a peaceful stand against apartheid in South Africa, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that there is “no room for racist and xenophobic acts” at this summer's soccer World Cup in the country, the first time the event will ever be held in Africa.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed every year on 21 March to commemorate the gunning down of the dozens of protestors in Sharpeville, South Africa.

On this “solemn anniversary,” the worst must reaffirm its commitment to “guard against a repeat of the horrors rooted in racism,” ranging from slavery to ethnic cleansing and genocide, Mr. Ban said in a message to commemorate the Day.

This year's observance takes on added significance as South Africa prepares to hold the World Cup, and he stressed that the world has a collective responsibility to make sure that no racist or xenophobic acts take place, either inside or outside football stadiums.

“More broadly,” the Secretary-General said, “we must push for all sports organizations to adopt stringent anti-discrimination policies, as well as frameworks for punishing the perpetrators of racist incidents and justice for the victims.”

The International Day is also an opportunity to highlight the powerful role played by sports to bring people of all backgrounds and cultures closer together, he pointed out. “Sports can empower disenfranchised communities, influence our perceptions and inspire millions of people around the world.”

The memory of the Sharpeville massacre's victims, Mr. Ban said, should be honoured by stepping up efforts worldwide to stamp out all forms of racism and racial discrimination.

“Let us cherish the rich diversity of humankind and respect the inherent dignity and equality of every human being.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay echoed the Secretary-General's sentiments that this summer's World Cup provides an opportunity “both to take a fresh look at the issue of racism in sport, and to enhance sport's tremendous potential to undermine racism, xenophobia and similar forms of intolerance in wider society.”

In a statement marking the International Day, she noted that racism continues to be a problem in sports in many countries, and she urged sports administrators to follow the lead set by two of the world's top soccer authorities – FIFA and UEFA – to put into place campaigns to banish it at all levels.

Recalling “disgraceful” incidents at football stadiums where fans have verbally players on the basis of their race, Ms. Pillay pointed out that while FIFA rules allow for points to be deducted when clubs have not take appropriate action, national leagues often do not apply such rules.

“On occasions, rich clubs and rich national bodies have escaped with derisory fines of a few thousand dollars after serious racist incidents during matches,” she said, urging national football authorities everywhere to “back their strong rhetoric with serious and consistent disincentives, including stadium bans, and point deductions. Until they do so, the admirable goal of eradicating racism in football will not be achieved.”

Although racial diversity is now the norm on the football field, minorities continue to be “disturbingly” under-represented at managerial levels, the High Commissioner said.

“The role of sports in changing attitudes towards racism is potentially immense – especially sports like football which attract huge and passionate live and TV audiences,” she said. “I sincerely hope that the 2010 World Cup will not only be a successful and joyous event in its own right, but that it will also stimulate further sustained effort to eradicate racism from sport, and through this powerful vector help extend more positive attitudes towards minorities and migrants to society at large.”

For their part, UN independent human rights experts noted that “racism is not only yesterday's problem – but an immense challenge for today.”

The scourge continues to plague every society and causes suffering for millions worldwide, they said.

“The 50th anniversary of the Sharpeville events is a day to remember and to pay tribute to the many who fell, but also the many who continue the struggle against racism – helping to make a difference to their own lives and the lives of others,” the experts said, praising the courage and determination of those endeavouring to end segregation and racism while boosting understanding and acceptance.

Too many countries, they underlined, are not carrying out their obligations against racism, with some even being perpetrators of it.

“Everyday, in every region, often in the face of adversity, people stand up against racism and injustice,” the group said. “Those people should expect the States where they live to be their strongest allies, protecting and supporting in their daily fight against racism.”

The UN Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) is using its partnership with the football club FC Barcelona to kick off an anti-racism campaign on 24 March at the teams game against Osasuna. This will be followed by other activities throughout the year at which Barcelona players will add their voices to the rejection of racism.

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