Monday, July 18, 2011
By the time this blog posts we'll know if the U.S. Women won the World Cup. Win or lose, they have provided a real lesson in how to play soccer both individually and as a team. When down a player against Brazil, the women held on to a 1-1 tie through regulation time to force overtime play. When Brazil scored in the opening minutes of that overtime play, the depleted U.S. squad never gave up and managed to score the equalizer in what became the latest goal in World Cup history. Then they won in PKs. Against France, exhausted after a travel day and a light training day, they let down for a moment and then rallied to win 3-1. As Coach Pia Sundhage put it, ""We lost our legs but we picked up our heart."" At every moment the team stayed on course, played their tactical game, and never gave up. It has been an incredible journey for the team and for the fans.
During the semi-finals of the Women's World Cup, FIFA sponsored a 'Say No to Racism' event, which they hold regularly during major soccer matches. The campaign began in April, 2006 and the first presentation of the event occurred during the Men's World Cup that year. Before designated matches, opposing teams meet in the center of the field behind the 'Say No to Racism' banners. Team captains read a statement which deplores racism in any form whether directed towards players or fans during a game or tolerated in their countries as a political or social policy. The teams pledged to fight racism. The FIFA program seeks to address all manners of prejudice and discrimination, since both have significant effects on the self-images of adults, especially children. Coretta Scott King said, ""Bigotry seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood"", based on characteristics over which those people have no control. Therefore, derogatory outbursts against players based on their national origin, race, gender, political affiliation, religious beliefs, and/or sexual orientation fall under the umbrella of the FIFA anti-racism campaign.
Most of us don't foster the virulent hatred and fear that we associate with racism. We would no more shout racial slurs at a player than practice active racial discrimination. However, many of us have been guilty of giving voice to or tacitly allowing language which does debase a group of people. For example, using the term 'retarded' as a derogatory term to describe a referee's behavior is demeaning to citizens who have mental disabilities. Even if we as parents don't use that language, we may tolerate our kids using it because ""everyone"" does. But at one time, ""everyone"" used racially derogatory language without a second thought. In a sense, it could be considered passive prejudice. We don't actually say anything bad, but we don't let it be known that such language is unacceptable around us.
Players, coaches, and teams face ridicule from fans constantly, so they have to have tough hides. I don't think FIFA is looking to eradicate racism so that their members won't have hurt feelings. After all, we fans can find any number of faults when we want to let our team, or an opposing team, know our displeasure. This is an issue of no longer tolerating behavior and language which focuses on traits outside those necessary to play the game such as race, religion, and national origin. When a young Latino fan sits in the stands he has already identified with players on the field. So when he hears racial slurs or taunts directed at those players, he feels that hatred directed towards him. Alone in the sea of fans, he probably also feels powerless. FIFA hopes to eradicate racism by taking a strong stance against racially motivated hate, but the organization also hopes to eradicate discrimination and prejudice which more subtly affect our lives and the lives of our children.
This is not FIFA's first recognition of the problem of racism world-wide. At the Men's World Cup in South Africa, Tokyo Sexwale, the commissioner of the program and a prison mate of Nelson Mandela during apartheid, reminded members of the media that, "FIFA itself took a strong stand, not merely against an association or a couple of players, but the strongest stand against racism that was ever taken by FIFA in expelling apartheid South Africa from the family of FIFA. And, of course, after the release of Nelson Mandela, readmitting South Africa." In addition, FIFA has asked youth teams to take the lead on the campaign, including interviewing and publishing the remarks of youth coaches from around the world. Miroslav Soukup, Czech Republic coach, explained, "There are no enemies in sport; just opponents. There's no hate; we take to the field to play hoping we're going to win. In no way are our opponents enemies, wherever they come from. Whether they're from Africa or Asia, it makes no difference. We're all the same."
During the quarter final match between the U.S. and Brazil, World Cup fans started whistling and hooting every time Brazilian player Marta got the ball. Their reaction reflected how the fans felt about her perceived off-side goal in overtime, and was not a racial, ethnic, or political statement. That type of protest will continue under the FIFA campaign because it is motivated by the fans' passion for the game and not by any hatred of a race or racial trait. Soccer will continue to be a game of great passion for both the players and the fans. FIFA hopes to take racial taunts and hatred out of the experience and in doing so hopefully positive behavior will spill over into the rest of our lives. It's a good start from a powerful and far-reaching organization which should be applauded for using its international influence to tackle an issue that affects us all.