Wednesday 31 August 2016, 13:54

A vision of the future

Fifteen years ago, the Extraordinary FIFA Congress met in Buenos Aires and passed a ground-breaking resolution against racism and discrimination that would go on to kick-start a wide range of projects. That anniversary is of course cause for celebration, but there is still much to be done.

FIFA has left no stone unturned in its drive to improve diversity and anti-discrimination in the day-to-day business of world football, launching projects that have included the anti-discrimination monitoring system, a Good Practice Guide, and the collation of member associations’ action plans, to name but three.

After all, what would anti-discrimination work be without the tireless efforts being put in at grassroots level? What chance could this work possibly have without governmental and non-governmental organisations and fan initiatives that connect directly with fans, young and old alike? Football, one of society’s greatest unifiers, would undoubtedly have far less driving force behind it. World football’s governing body recognises this through the Football for Hope programme and all of the related projects at grassroots level that are using football to try and improve living conditions in society.

A jury of 11 experts All of this work and the many volunteers behind it cannot be praised enough, which is why FIFA recently took the opportunity to launch a new award. “The FIFA Diversity Award,” explains FIFA President Gianni Infantino, “will honour those who work to ensure that football stays true to its core values of solidarity and fair play”.

To breathe life into this new award, FIFA will not only highlight some impressive examples of the excellent work being done all around the world, but will also include all forms of discrimination, as listed in article 4 of the FIFA Statutes. To do so, FIFA has formed a jury of 11 experts, including, for example, FIFA Women’s World Cup™ winner Abby Wambach (USA), and Alexandra Haas Paciuc, the President of the Mexican anti-discrimination organisation Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación (CONAPRED). They have been joined by former Germany international Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out in 2014 after calling time on his career and has since worked to combat discrimination against homosexuals in football, insisting that everyone “should be able to live without fear of discrimination due to his or her background, skin colour, sexual orientation or religion. I do not see this as a political statement, but as a self-evident fact.”

Moya Dodd, the deputy chairwoman of the Committee for Women's Football and the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, is also on the jury and she says: “Football is a global and unique convening power. It bridges culture, class and creed like nothing else. It helps us rise above our prejudices to realise our commonality and our humanity. I’m delighted to be a part of this new FIFA award, which recognises and celebrates outstanding instances of diversity and non-discrimination.”

Projects in England and India The first of the final three nominees is Kick It Out (KIO), an organisation in England that is supported by The Football Association, the Premier League, the Professional Footballers’ Association and the Football League. Since being founded in 1993, the organisation has strived to ensure that people take equality seriously and work towards greater inclusion in the game. The main focuses of KIO’s work are on advising people on the benefits of equality, documenting discriminatory incidents, and providing practical education at schools and universities as well as in online courses.

The second nominee is Slum Soccer, an organisation that promotes the development of the most extremely marginalised sectors of Indian society. Slum Soccer’s programme offers sustainable solutions to combat homelessness and to improve living conditions in disadvantaged areas, using football to overcome ethnic, religious, linguistic and gender-based barriers, to connect people, to teach basic life skills, and to work towards improving the overall quality of life. As the name suggests, the focus of the organisation’s work lies in Indian slums, and in the last ten years alone, nearly 70,000 men, women and children in more than 63 districts all over India have benefited from their social development projects, educational and health courses.

Promoting understanding The final nominee still in the running for the 2016 FIFA Diversity Award is the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association (IGLFA). Founded in 1992, the IGLFA promotes and fosters the worldwide growth of football for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT) while also strengthening the self-respect of the global LGBT community. IGLFA tournaments and meetings are aimed at LGBT people as well as heterosexuals, and they also provide opportunities for discussions about the organisation’s daily work to combat all forms of discrimination. The organisation also uses football to promote dialogue about sporting and social experiences, respect and understanding. The IGLFA’s objective is to foster the self-respect of male and female players and help to ensure that they are not confronted by daily abuse for being homosexual, bisexual or transsexual.

This is just a brief overview of the three shortlisted nominees for the award. After assessing the projects, jury member Jaiyah Saelua, who is herself a Fa’afafine – a third-gender person in American Samoan culture – could not help but be impressed. Saelua, who was also the first openly transgender person to take part in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifying match, said: “Knowing that each nominee may be highly deserving of the award will make our jobs difficult, but I am sure that this award will inspire more and more people from around the world to make positive changes for their communities, organisations, and most especially for the sport”.

That quote ties in perfectly with the original ideas that led to the introduction of this new award. After all, while there can only be one – richly deserving – winner when their work to promote diversity and anti-discrimination is honoured in Manchester on 26 September 2016, as they step up to accept the distinction, they will also do so on behalf of the many, many organisations, projects and initiatives that are, in their own ways, working wonders day in, day out to promote social inclusion in football.