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FIFA's New Anti-Racism Measures Represent Progress but Require Enforcement

Michael Cummings@MikeCummings37World Football Lead WriterMay 31, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 24: FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter addresses the room during the XXXVII Ordinary UEFA Congress at the Grovesnor House Hotel on May 24, 2013 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

That unfamiliar sensation filtering down from FIFA's inner sanctum on this otherwise unremarkable Friday? Believe it or not, it's progress.

Now, though, we wait to see whether progress will mean action.

In a vote backed by a 99 percent super-majority at its Congress in Mauritius, FIFA has adopted stern, new measures meant to combat racism in football. According to the new guidelines, the most serious cases—as well as repeat offenders—can receive punishments ranging from points deductions to relegation or expulsion from competition, according to BBC Sport.

Fighting racism has become a key issue in recent times for FIFA, though the world governing body has not always produced positive responses. In November 2011, FIFA president Sepp Blatter suggested "there is no racism" in football and said a player facing racism on the pitch should shake hands with the abuser, via The Telegraph.

In January of this year, AC Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng walked out of a friendly against Pro Patria after being subjected to racist chants from Pro Patria's fans. Pro Patria's punishment was to play one match behind closed doors—or in other words, in front of no fans.

At the time of the Pro Patria incident, Guardian writer Amy Lawrence criticized the measures used to combat racism. Her opening paragraph read like a rallying cry:

Slogans. Paltry fines. Captains reading out prepared statements over the Tannoy. More paltry fines. T-shirts. Even more paltry fines … When nothing meaningful changes, when words appear to fall on deliberately deaf ears, when punishments are forgotten as quickly as a hastily written cheque, when the authorities do not help, eventually there comes a time for direct action.

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Fortunately, Friday's news qualifies as positive action. Thankfully, Blatter himself is at the head of the effort.

Speaking to the delegates, Blatter hinted that the organization can take a leading role in ending racism. His words felt light years away from his November 2011 comments—and correctly so.

"We need zero tolerance and strict punishments everywhere," he said via FIFA.com. "We must lead. We must set a tough, uncompromising example. Football can show the way. We can make a difference."

Blatter is right that FIFA can make a difference, and FIFA was right to adopt tough new measures against racism. But at this point, they are only guidelines, and no matter how well-meaning they are, the real test will come when racism inevitably pops up again.

As the BBC points out, Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner received an £80,000 fine for revealing an unauthorized sponsor on his underpants at Euro 2012; elsewhere, the Serbian FA received a £65,000 fine for racist actions during an Under-21 international against England in October 2012.

Those cases revealed the skewed priorities of modern football, which is dominated by money and rife with racism. Friday's news suggests FIFA is heading in the right direction, but only time will tell how serious these measures really are.

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