Splits in FIFA anti-racism strategy at World Cup

The Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- Splits in FIFA's plan to fight discrimination at the World Cup have been exposed after reported incidents involving fans went unpunished.

The public divide was revealed Thursday at a briefing involving the chairmen of FIFA's task force against racism, Jeffrey Webb, and its disciplinary panel, Claudio Sulser. It came at a World Cup which FIFA President Sepp Blatter has pledged would not tolerate discrimination.

Webb is unhappy that evidence provided to Sulser's panel - of fans chanting gay slurs, wearing black face make-up and carrying banners with far-right symbols - did not result in any sanctions.

''It is obvious there is a disconnect between what we in the task force deem as racism and discrimination and what the disciplinary committee deems as racism and discrimination,'' Webb told reporters.

Webb said a better strategy is needed at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

''It is much more of a problem in Russia,'' the FIFA vice president acknowledged after the briefing. ''Russia itself needs a special task force, just for Russia and from an educational standpoint internally.''

Sulser defended his panel's apparent inaction against football federations, which are responsible for the behavior of fans inside stadiums. He said sanctions were not possible where no specific player or team was targeted.

''There have been isolated cases,'' Sulser said through a translator, before adding that he did not want to ''intervene only for the sake of intervening.''

Asked about dropping a case against Mexico fans chanting a slur at opposing goalkeepers, he said: ''They have used words which were inappropriate, even kind of rude, which were not directed at a specific player.''

The FIFA panel was supplied with evidence by monitors from not-for-profit fan groups. Those groups were given no formal role at the World Cup despite a proposal to FIFA by Webb's task force in March.

Webb said there was ''absolutely no reason'' for this failure to step up evidence-gathering.

''It is very unfortunate. We had identified this as one of our top priorities,'' Webb said.

Federico Addiechi, FIFA's director of corporate social responsibility, said a more thorough program could not be created in time ''at the highest level that FIFA requires for this World Cup.''

''Training of anti-discrimination officers for each of the 32 participating associations is not something you can do in the proper way in such a short period of time,'' Addiechi said.

The most prominent fan monitoring group, Fare, worked mainly in Europe with less experience of ''specific matters in other regions,'' he said.

Fare was an official partner of European football's governing body at the 2012 European Championship where it helped prosecute a series of cases for discrimination. Those included Croatia and Russia, which have escaped sanction in Brazil for fans carrying far-right banners.

''It is obvious that these are two very different tournaments and opinions,'' Sulser said. ''The disciplinary committee tries to adopt a coherent behavior.''

Sulser highlighted that his panel banned Croatia defender Josip Simunic for 10 matches ahead of the World Cup. Simunic led fans in a Nazi-era chant after a decisive playoff win.

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