Monday 05 June 2023, 09:00

FIFA reiterates call for global unity in battle against abuse in sport

  • Alasdair Bell and Joyce Cook emphasized the need for urgent unified action during a hearing organized by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

  • The FIFA Deputy Secretary General and Senior Advisor to the President provided updates on the findings of the consultation process to establish a global multisport entity

  • Former France and Manchester United captain Patrice Evra also gave evidence and backed FIFA’s calls for a global unified approach

Speaking at a hearing of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), members of FIFA’s senior management team have restated the global governing body of football’s stance in calling for a multi-sport, multi-stakeholder international solution. The hearing, which took place at Portcullis House in Westminster, UK, followed an extensive consultation process, which was commissioned by FIFA following President Gianni Infantino’s call for the creation of an independent safe sport entity. Politicians gathered from member states across Europe heard FIFA’s call for the establishment of an independent global entity to help build trust and provide the specialist support services needed to allow victims to come forward. Such an entity would support ongoing efforts to develop national solutions to ensure cases of abuse in sport are addressed across all levels and in all countries.

Appearing at the hearing in Central London, were FIFA Deputy Secretary General Alasdair Bell, and Joyce Cook, Senior Advisor to the FIFA President. Both emphasized the same point: that real action should be taken now. “We are talking about something global in nature,” Mr Bell told members of the parliamentary arm of the 46-nation Council of Europe. “We have to understand that many national sports federations, and many international sports federations, have limited capacity, resource, and expertise to deal with this issue, so it’s not really going to go away based on the resources they have. It seems to me, and it seems to FIFA, that given the nature of the problem, given its international dimension and character, it’s an area where the pooling of knowledge, resource, and experience would be a logical step.”

Following the FIFA President’s call for a consultation in 2021, an extensive stakeholder engagement and research process got under way. More than 230 experts and multiple stakeholders participated in an initial global independent consultation to consider the prevailing gaps and to test the need for an international multisport entity. The results – published in the Consultation Report in October 2021 – confirmed that sports lack capacity and expertise to deal with abuse cases, that many gaps still exist in both sports and criminal justice systems globally, and that victims do not trust the systems in place. The report recommended that an international independent safe sport entity should be created with the specialist trauma-informed services required to support victims and to assist International Sports Federations in investigating cases of abuse. Following this initial consultation, in November 2022, a multi-stakeholder Interim Steering Group (ISG) was appointed to consider the creation of an international multisport entity together with seven International Sports Federations, and to make high-level recommendations to the founding sports. The voices of survivors in sport were considered as critical to this process with the Army of Survivors commissioned to coordinate this engagement and to provide counselling support when needed. A further 40 experts from around the world were also convened to support the ISG’s works, and a conscious effort was made to ensure geographical representation.

Joyce Cook, who – on the mandate of the FIFA President – has led the consultation throughout, presented its key findings to PACE members in London highlighting repeated calls for an independent entity that could be trusted by victims and whistleblowers whilst more local solutions were being developed. Noting that national multi-stakeholder frameworks were expected to take at least 10-15 years to achieve globally, with the full report and its recommendations to be shared with the International Olympic Committee, she called on the sporting and political worlds to unite in tackling the multitude of problems currently being faced. “This is something that sport cannot tackle alone, so ever more we need to work together. We need cooperation with justice authorities at national level to strengthen the legal environment. We need to work together with state law enforcement agencies." Responsible for creating the safeguarding and child protection department within FIFA, Cook called abuse “one of the most compelling threats to the integrity of sport with “evidence of perpetrators jumping from one region to another and from sport to sport” and stating “it’s not an option, not to act”.

Also speaking at the hearing alongside the representatives from FIFA were a number of other officials representing sporting bodies from around the world – including the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation, the Chair of the Governing Board of the Council of Europe’s Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport and the Chair of ECPAT, a global NGO network working to end the sexual exploitation of children. Alongside officials, two high profile sportspeople also testified – Olivia Jasriel a former South African international tennis player with lived experience of abuse in sport, and founder of the Jasriel Foundation, a South African NGO focused on protecting athletes against child abuse – and Patrice Evra, former captain of France and Manchester United.

Mr Evra spoke passionately about his experiences as a survivor of abuse – and implored those gathered in Westminster to take what they had heard during the hearings back to their countries and constituencies – and to play their part in enacting tangible change at all levels, without delay. He said: “I know a lot of institutions are doing a lot of movement. But we need to adapt. We have a world anti-doping code, we are trying to eradicate racism in sport. But what about protecting children? We have to start now, it’s an emergency. I want all the people in this room to go home and think about those kids tonight. We need to start now – we have to make this a real priority.” He continued: “ In 24 hours we [the people and the media] shut down the Super League. Why don’t we have the same energy to protect children? I was a victim of abuse. I'm a survivor of abuse. I know it’s a sensitive subject, but I’m not asking for pity, I’m asking for change – and I am ready to play my part. This is more important to me than winning the Champions League.”