FIFA urges soccer bodies to mandate racism as an offense. Players to flag abuse with crossed hands


GENEVA — FIFA wants all 211 national federations to make racist abuse a disciplinary offense, and designate a crossed hands gesture by victims to alert referees to abuse.

Soccer’s world body detailed the tougher and more unified approach it wants to tackle racism on Thursday after months of consulting with victimized players including Real Madrid star Vinícius Júnior.

The crossed hands gesture was made on a medal podium at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 by United States athlete Raven Saunders who won silver in women’s shot put.

”It’s the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet,” Saunders said in Tokyo.

FIFA is encouraging players to copy the gesture that led to Saunders facing a disciplinary investigation by the International Olympic Committee, which has rules prohibiting political statements at medal ceremonies.

Teams whose fans or players racially abuse opponents could soon face disciplinary punishments such as forfeiting games, typically as a 3-0 loss, as part of a five-pillar pledge on tackling discrimination. They will be put to FIFA member federations on Friday at their annual meeting in Bangkok.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino promised months ago to make a worldwide proposal and has consulted with Brazil star Vinicius Junior, who is Black and has been repeatedly abused by opposing fans in Spanish stadiums.

He broke down in tears at a news conference in March before Spain hosted Brazil in a friendly organized in fallout of the persistent abuse he has faced in his adopted home.

“The time has come for to unite to unequivocally commit as a global community to address the issue of racism in the game,” FIFA said in a letter to member federations.

FIFA also wants to create a panel of players who will “monitor and advise on the implementation of these actions around the world.”

Soccer has struggled for more than a decade to deal with racism in stadiums by agreeing and coordinating on-field responses by match officials and post-match disciplinary action by federations and competition organizers.

Calls for tougher sanctions, such as match forfeits, points deductions or even disqualification from a competition have been judged too difficult to enforce legally. They also risk enabling agitators to try and provoke incidents.

Soccer leaders in countries such as Italy and Spain have consistently denied the sport has a racism problem.

In some cases, investigations were dropped by soccer authorities including UEFA because there was no evidence beyond a claim by the player alleging abuse.

Black players who claimed they were racially abused by opponents or fans and tried to leave the field have themselves been shown a yellow card for their actions.

FIFA wants the crossed hands gesture to be the recognized signal for referees to start a long-standing three-step process at a game where racial and discriminatory abuse is heard: To pause the play and broadcast warnings in the stadium, to take teams off the field, then abandon games.

That three-step process should be mandatory across all 211 federations, FIFA said on Thursday. They also will be asked to lobby their governments to make racism a criminal offense and prosecute cases, plus promote anti-racism work in schools.

Before Saunders crossed her hands in Tokyo, the gesture was used by the men’s marathon silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Feyisa Lilesa raised his arms above his head and crossed his wrists at the finish line in Rio in protest against government oppression at home in Ethiopia.

Saunders initially was in trouble with the IOC for making the gesture which also was a broader statement celebrating diversity. The IOC investigation was paused days later after Saunders’ mother died.

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