Shortly before the start of this year's World Cup, The New York Times reported on the homophobic views of Eucharia Uche, the head coach of the Nigerian women's national soccer team. Uche told The Times she'd spent her two-year tenure with the club using religion to try to "rid her team of homosexual behavior," calling homosexuality a "dirty issue" and "spiritually, morally very wrong."
A few days later, after Nigeria's loss to France in the World Cup tournament opener, Tatjana Haenni, FIFA's head of women's competitions, announced that she would meet with Uche to discuss her comments. Said Haenni before the scheduled June 29 meeting, "FIFA is against all forms of discrimination. We are here at a FIFA event and will point out that it would be best to express oneself neutrally."
Some rights activists argued that Uche should face suspension for her comments, citing Article 3 of FIFA's Statutes, which reads, in part, "... discrimination of any kind ... on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion." No suspensions or fines have yet been levied to Uche or the Nigerian soccer federation.
Fast-forward to the 10th annual "FIFA Anti-Discrimination Day," to be held Wednesday during the two semifinal matches in Frankfurt and Monchengladbach. According to a press release, the games will feature displays of unity against discrimination of all kinds.
A few minutes before kick-off, the two team captains will read a declaration to encourage players, officials and fans around the world to say "no" to any form of discrimination, not only in football, but also in society in general. Both teams and the match officials will also jointly pose with a banner displaying the unequivocal "Say No to Racism" message as part of the official match protocol.
Controversial FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who just recently came under fire for joking that gays should plan to "refrain from any sexual activities" during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, said of Wednesday's events, "Football is a mirror of society, which means that unfortunately our game is still blighted by discrimination and intolerance. We must use our game to educate people, especially the world's youth, about the importance of fair play and respect. These values should be upheld both on, and off, the pitch. It is 2011, and we are all responsible to protect our game and ensure that any form of discrimination is shown the red card."
FIFA's bark has been, thus far, much worse than its bite. Those who have been accused of discrimination against gays have usually gotten a slap on the wrist (i.e. a $14,100 fine to Croatian soccer federation president Vlatko Markovic for saying that a gay player would never play for his team and that he had never met a gay player because "only healthy people play football"), or, as in the case of Uche, no punishment at all.
According to several outlets, including TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com, more than one hundred people dressed as referees are planning to stage a flash mob in Frankfurt Wednesday to demand that FIFA better enforce its rights policies. Leading the protest is international gay rights organization AllOut.org. Said human right campaigner Peter Tatchell, in support of the planned efforts, "FIFA's silence and inaction is collusion with homophobic prejudice and discrimination. ... Sepp Blatter and FIFA must insist that Nigerian football officials halt their witch-hunt of lesbian players. Allowing this discrimination is unacceptable. The beautiful game is not beautiful when it tolerates prejudice."
FIFA's annual Anti-Discrimination Day efforts are admirable and clearly much-needed, but if they truly want to rid soccer of hate and homophobia, it's going to take more than a few speeches and a banner.