Anti-racism campaigners criticise FIFA over response to Sulley Muntari racial abuse

Published on: 10 May 2017


Campaigners have accused FIFA of only paying lip service to the fight against racism and not doing enough to tackle repeat offenders.

Football's response to racism is under the spotlight again after Sulley Muntari was booked for complaining to the referee about racial abuse from fans during a Serie A game between Cagliari and Pescara last month.

The Ghanaian midfielder, who plays for Pescara, had asked the referee to stop the game but left the field when he was cautioned - the injustice was compounded a day later when the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) gave him a one-game ban for his fifth booking.

Worldwide criticism led the FIGC to overturn that decision a few days later but the episode has damaged the Italian game's already poor record in this area.

Speaking to reporters in Bahrain ahead of this week's annual congress, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said the fans involved were "idiots" and he would be talking to both Muntari and FIGC boss Carlo Tavecchio about improving matters.

And FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura told the BBC that cases like this are monitored by a FIFA committee and "appropriate action" will follow.

But the governing body's response to the Muntari case, and several others recently, has disappointed experts, particularly after FIFA disbanded an anti-racism task force last year, saying its work was done.

Osasu Obayiuwana was a member of that task force and he told Press Association Sport that Infantino's rhetoric "is certainly not enough" and the time for talking has passed.

" What is required is concrete action. FIFA has a responsibility to compel FAs to come up with real plans to deal with racism in the terraces and to take action against errant FAs if they do not act to deal with games under their authority," said Obayiuwana.

" I made this point while I was member of the defunct FIFA task force. Unfortunately, this was not heeded."

The British-Nigerian journalist and lawyer noted that Italian football has had these issues before and little seems to have changed since a friendly between AC Milan and Pro Patria was abandoned when Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng was racially abused by fans four years ago.

On Saturday, Juventus' Moroccan defender Medhi Benatia said he heard a racist insult in his earpiece during a televised post-match interview and Roma's Antonio Rudiger was subjected to racist chants by Lazio fans.

The FIGC decided against any punishment for Cagliari because less than one per cent of the crowd took part in the abuse and it has repeatedly shied away from punishing clubs with partial or compete stadium closures.

Italy's record on racism is also not helped by remarks Tavecchio has made in the past and he was banned for six months by European football's governing body UEFA in 2014 for a comment about African players eating bananas.

Obayiuwana said: " In my view, the FIGC lacks the capacity or the political will to deal racism in the terraces.

"The sanctions that will have a telling impact are points deductions, long-term stadium bans for fans engaging in racist behaviour and criminal prosecution for them as well.

"If the clubs are not taking action against a racist element in their fan base, they should receive heavy fines as well."

Obayiuwana's frustration is shared by Piara Powar, the chief executive of the FARE Network, a group that campaigns against all forms of discrimination in football.

Powar told Press Association Sport: "Italian football has been beset with problems of racism for many years.

"The sheer number of incidents taking place inside stadiums, statements made in the past by senior leaders and the exclusion of minority groups such a refugees, all point to a country that needs to start a process of systemic change.

"We know there are good people within the FIGC who understand the challenges they face but more needs to be done, the Italian football tradition is too rich to ignore this problem, it will not go away."

Powar wants FIFA to take a leaf out of UEFA's book by hitting repeat offenders with stadium bans, as the European body has done recently with clubs in Russia, Poland and Ukraine. He would also like FIFA to put the three-step protocol for dealing with racist chanting into its statutes.

Infantino referred to this in Bahrain, saying the referee in the Cagliari-Pescara match failed to follow procedure by halting the game to warn fans that the game could be called off, taking the teams off if the warning fails and then abandoning the game if that also fails to stop the abuse.

Powar, however, points out FIFA has not actually embedded this rule and there are several other examples of regulations the organisation could change to make it easier to sanction member associations that fail to take proper steps against acts of discrimination.

On Tuesday, the FARE Network's website listed 10 incidents since the Boateng case where players have either been booked for complaining about racist abuse or felt they had to walk off the pitch, including a top-flight game in Argentina on Saturday.