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Are Uefa and FIGC fit to tackle racism in football without any black senior managers?

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UEFA Executive Committee meeting ahead of the EURO2024 Host Announcement
UEFA Executive Committee meeting ahead of the EURO2024 Host Announcement   -  
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In the top managerial roles of Uefa and FIGC - the Italian Football Federation - there are no black people. In the two most important football institutions in Italy and Europe, which claim to want to fight racism on the pitch, those who make the most important decisions are almost always white.

How much does this lack of representation of ethnic minorities affect the way in which racism is tackled in sport?

Uefa

The Uefa Executive Committee is the executive supreme body: here all but one of the managers are white Europeans. The only exception is Nasser Al-Khelaifi, a Qatari businessman, chairman of Qatar Sports Investments and president of Paris Saint-Germain. In February 2016 the French newspaper L’equipe named him "the most powerful man in French football".

The Executive Committee is made up of the Uefa President, 16 other members elected by the Congress (formed by presidents of football federations of the 55 nations members of Uefa), plus two elected by the European Club Association and one by the European Leagues.

But the structure of Uefa does not end here: beyond the Executive Committee, there are other bodies such the Administration of Justice, the Strategic Council for Professional Football and the Committees and Panels.

The latter two “are involved in shaping Uefa’s policy across the broad palette of European football” according to Uefa's website. From medical issues to player transfers and finance, these two bodies handle many topics and can submit proposals to the Executive Committee.

Here we find black managers: reading the names in the Composition of the Uefa Committees and Panels for the mandate 2019-2023, Euronews counted that among more than 450 members, three are black.

One of these is part of the Commission for Fair Play and Social Responsibility composed of 23 members: he is the former English footballer Paul Elliott.

Although Uefa and FIGC are private institutions and are not obliged to have inclusive policies, the impact of their activity in society is huge. Uefa says "No to racism" but the problem in sport is far from being eradicated.

A few days ago a top Italian football manager, Massimo Cellino, the Brescia chairman, said about a black player Mario Balotelli: "He’s black but he’s working to whiten himself and he is struggling to do it"

Uefa's response

Contacted by Euronews, the Uefa press office said: “There are currently 820 staff members at Uefa. A survey that took place in 2018 showed that 86% of respondents reported their ethnicity as Caucasian, with 14% identifying themselves as a different ethnicity. There are currently 48 nationalities represented at Uefa. It is worth also pointing out that our organisation has staff members which represent every continent on the planet, with the exception of Antarctica”.

However, Uefa does not specify whether this 14% of non-Caucasian people is in top managerial roles or not.

Does the fact that there are so few black people in Uefa management make the battle against racism weaker?

Euronews posed this question to sociologist Ben Carrington, sports law expert Massimo Coccia and the first black footballer to wear the shirt of the Italian national team, Joseph Dayo Oshadogan.

According to Carrington, a professor at the University of Southern California and author of four books on racism and sport: “The pathetically weak responses to racism from Uefa can, in part, be attributed to the fact that they have too many white officials who do not take racism seriously.”

“It does reflect poorly on Uefa and other sports organisations that they remain, in the words of the former Director-General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, ‘hideously white’. Given the large numbers of black footballers playing the game at the highest level, Uefa and sports leagues and clubs need to be more proactive in ensuring that we have a multicultural presence in the boardroom as much as we do on the pitch.”

“To the extent that Uefa and other bodies have more people of colour inside them at high levels, it increases the chances – although it does not guarantee anything – that the fight against racism will indeed be a fight rather than the tokenistic and reactive responses we’ve seen so far,” he adds.

According to Carrington, fighting racism only in the stadium is not enough.

“Football is happy to see, celebrate and in some respects use the bodies of black footballers, their athletic labour, on the pitch but seems to have no desire to allow footballers into the spaces of power, into coaching positions, into senior executive positions,” says the sociologist.

“What matters most is a cultural change. Moving from the current position, which is football trying not to be racist, to being actively anti-racist. Being non-racist and anti-racist are two different things.”

And what about FIGC?

Looking at the FIGC, the situation does not significantly change: there aren't black people among the managers of the central governing bodies, but in the Federal Council - one of the most important decision-making body of the federation - there is a black councillor, even if she’s not a manager but a player. She is Sara Gama, captain of the Italian women's national team.

Among the Federation's committees there is also a special one for “integration” chaired by the former black track and field champion Fiona May. Contacted by Euronews , the FIGC press office did not answer our questions.

Massimo Coccia, a sports law expert, wrote an article in 2006 on the FIGC’s sports justice code about the "responsibility for discriminatory behaviour". He says there is still a lot of work to do, but the issue of racism in stadiums is very complex.

"We must not forget one thing: being a sport manager in many cases means having time and a certain economic well-being. Federal Council of FGIC members, for example, do not take any salary. Even the president is only entitled to an allowance," says Coccia.

"My son played basketball and had many fellow children of immigrants, from all ethnic groups. But how many of those children who now play basketball will have the time and the money to become sports executives one day? We're talking about a political issue that affects the whole of society, and not just sport," he concludes.

Joseph Dayo Oshadogan, former Italian soccer player, was the first black player to pull on the Italian national shirt. "Talking about racism is easier for those who have experienced it on their own skin,” he says. “We are talking about raw experiences but if we talk about institutions that work outside the field, I think the number of black people in the management is simply a meritocratic issue: episodes of racism during the games are a different problem”.

The player is optimistic: "After years I can say things are finally changing'". He explains that he does not feel like a symbol and says: "Wearing the shirt was a wonderful experience for me as for everyone: the media case broke out later. I didn’t join the national team as a symbol. Representing Italy was just the dream of a child for me".

The Press

Italian sports media seem to be playing a weak hand on tackling racism in football. On Thursday, Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport used the headline 'Black Friday' and the picture of black football players Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku to announce Friday's match between Inter Milan and AS Roma.

However, as Lukaku's Italian agent Federico Pastorello told media, racist attitudes in football are not only present in the stadium, social media or the streets, now they are also openly visible in media.

But the line of what is considered as racist and what is not can be difficult to draw for some.

Coriere dello Sport director Ivan Zazzaroni claimed that the headline is innocent and meant to "the praise of difference, the pride of difference, the magnificent richness of difference". Anti-racism group Fare described the headline as another way to "fuel racism".

Lukaku himself has been repeatedly a victim of racism during his career. He was insulted with monkey chants when he took a penalty for Inter Milan during a match at Cagliari. A veteran Italian pundit suggested that the Belgium player could only be stopped "by giving him bananas to eat".

For Smalling, these words are not "innocent" and he pointed out the power of media and the strong impact they have on society.

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