The AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, who led his team off the field after being abused by fans in early January, called for an end to racism in football on Thursday at an event to mark the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The event in Geneva, was opened by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, also featured former France international and World Cup winner Patrick Vieira, Head of social responsibility at FIFA Federico Addiechi, UEFA Presidential Advisor William Gailliard, and the Executive Director of FARE Piara Powar.
Boateng drew heavily on his recent experiences comparing racism to a virulent disease, the 26 year-old explained: “It's a dangerous and infectious virus which is strengthened by indifference and inaction.”
Racism is like Malaria
“When I played for Ghana, I learned how to fight malaria. Simple vaccines are not enough. You also have to get to the root of the problem, to dry out infected areas where the carriers proliferate. I think that racism and malaria have a lot in common”, he said.
“Stadiums can be places where people of different colour come to support their teams or they can be seen as stagnant areas where healthy people will be infected by racism.
“We can't allow this to happen before our very eyes. If we don't fight the stagnation, many of those who are healthy today, could become infected with one of the most dangerous diseases of our time.”
The Ghana international also called for more diversity within the sport. He told the BBC “If football is more multiculti it helps the black community and gets more people and more countries involved and these things can help. Let's hope that soon there's going to be a black Mourinho and a Pakistani Guardiola.”
“There must be accountability for racist offences in sports”
Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility underlined a new mood in sanctioning, “We know fines are not and may not be enough. Deducting points from a team could send a very strong message. Relegating or eliminating a team from a competition can send an even stronger message,”
Navi Pillay stressed the role of sport as a fundamental platform to convey positive messages in the fight against racism.
“Sport is, by essence, inclusive and multicultural. The time to kick racism out of football is now. There must be accountability for racist offences in sports” she said.
On behalf of the FARE network Piara Powar highlighted the need to break down glass ceilings.
“Football should use diverse talent”
“Football has the positive power to change attitudes but it also has the power to reinforce exclusion. We need to see more people like Patrick Vieira using their talent in prominent positions – not to do so is to lose out and to reinforce the sense of exclusion many young people from minority communities feel.
“It is unconscionable that our sport does not use the diverse talent resource off the field that it now can on the pitch.”
Patrick Vieira drew on his long experience as a player, “My generation and that of the one before faced so many of these problems. We are united in saying that this cannot continue and must be tackled. There are many things that are being done but they are not going far enough.”
Watch part of Kevin-Prince Boateng’s speech and an interview with Patrick Vieira.
Watch a BBC interview with Kevin-Prince Boateng.
UN Link text event page