FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura says the clearest message players can send to fans who are racially abusing them is to walk off the field of play.
The 54-year-old’s comments came amid a worrying spate of racist incidents which have tarnished the sport’s reputation and put pressure on world football’s governing body to do more in the fight against all forms of discrimination.
In March the England national team was subjected to racist abuse during a Euro 2020 qualifying match in Montenegro and Juventus’ teenage striker Moise Kean endured monkey chants from opposition fans last month.
“I think to step out of the field, from players, would be a very strong message,” Samoura told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies.
“But I’m not in their shoes, they’re doing it to earn their living. But I think one day it will happen.”
‘There are idiots in life’
Born in Senegal, Samoura became the first woman, and the first non-European, to hold an executive post at FIFA.
Since taking office in June 2016, the 56-year-old has embarked on strategy to help clean up world football’s governing body and tackle the biggest issues facing the sport.
When it comes to racism, the former UN diplomat knows there is plenty of work to be done.
“Every single incident now is taking a bigger amplitude, which is normal,” she said.
“There are idiots in the life. There are people who think that they want a world where everybody is the same and I think this is totally wrong.”
Governing bodies like FIFA and UEFA, which governs European football, are also coming under greater scrutiny from high-profile players calling for tougher sanctions for racist incidents.
In particular, England and Manchester City star Raheem Sterling has become an unofficial spokesperson in the fight against racism and has criticized the game for not getting to grips with the issue.
Speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival in New York Tuesday, Sterling argued that T-shirts and social media posts were no longer enough.
“If you know your team is going to get deducted nine points, you are not going to say these racist remarks even though you shouldn’t have it in your head,” he said.
As part of its “zero tolerance” approach to racism, FIFA launched the “three-step procedure” in 2017 which gives referees permission to stop, suspend or abandon games due to racist chanting within the stadium.
However, football’s governing bodies have faced questions as to whether post-match sanctions are tough enough when there have been discrimination incidents.
For example, Montenegro was fined 20,000 euros ($22,337) by UEFA and ordered to play its next home game behind closed doors after its fans abused Sterling and his England teammates.
“It’s a shame on society for people to accept it,” Samoura said, explaining the challenges those fighting racism face.
“More and more people think that having people behaving non-sportingly is something that we, as a society, can accept and this should not be the case.”
‘Evil in society’
But combating discrimination through sanctions alone will not bring a solution to this issue, says Samoura.
“It’s the whole sports world that should be fighting racism,” she said. “On the pitch, through communications, through education, through demonstrations, through sanctions.
“We have all to pull our efforts together to make it happen. But racism has been as old as any other evil in society, and it’s for everybody to combat and to fight it.”
Now in her third year of the role, Samoura says she has yet to experience any direct discrimination herself but believes her own appointment would have raised eyebrows.
“I’m sure in the eyes of some people I was not supposed to be there. But they have to deal with it,” she said.
“And the fact that I’m here with my UN background, they better not play that game with me.”
Author: Amanda Davies and Ben Church
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