By Chris Bertram
MANCHESTER (Reuters) – World soccer’s governing body FIFA was under fire on Monday for winding up its anti-racism task force with former presidential candidate Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan describing the move as worrying and shameful.
FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura confirmed the decision when she spoke to the Soccerex conference in Manchester, saying the task force had a “very specific mandate”.
“We will turn its work into a strong program of zero tolerance policy toward discrimination of any kind, including violation of human rights,” she said. “We can live with perception (created by disbanding the task force) but we are taking very firm action.”
However, Prince Ali, a former FIFA executive committee member who has twice run for the presidency, said that “the notion that the current FIFA leadership believes that the task force’s recommendations have been implemented is shameful.”
He added that the announcement was “incredibly worrying”.
“Never has the need to combat racism and racial discrimination been more evident than it is in the world we live in today,” Prince Ali said in a statement.
“It is not something that any governing body with any semblance of responsibility can down play or deny.
“The reality, as with many programs within FIFA, is that the task force was never given real support since its conception and its role was more about FIFA’s image than actually tackling the issues.”
The decision emerged on Friday when Osasu Obayiuwana, a Nigerian broadcaster and lawyer who was a member of the panel, published on Twitter a letter he received from FIFA announcing the end of the task force.
It said the task force had achieved the goals which were set out for it when it was created under the leadership of disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter in 2013.
The task force’s original chairman, Jeffrey Webb, was among high-ranking soccer officials arrested in Zurich in May last year.
Webb has since pleaded guilty in the United States to offences linked to racketeering, fraud and money-laundering.
He was one of 42 soccer officials and entities indicted last year, plunging FIFA into its worst ever crisis.
Webb was replaced as head of the task force by Constant Omary, a FIFA Council member from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Britain’s Kick It Out anti-racism group said it was perplexed by FIFA’s decision, especially as the move came less than two years before the World Cup in Russia, a country it said was “notorious for racism and abusive activities toward minorities”.
It said football should seek to lead the way in combating violence, prejudice and hate and that organizations fighting racism would be “deeply disheartened to hear news of the disbandment, as they look to FIFA for leadership.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Zurich, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond)