RIO DE JANEIRO – Splits in FIFA's plan to fight discrimination at the World Cup have been exposed after reported incidents involving fans went unpunished.
The public divide was revealed Thursday at a briefing involving the chairmen of FIFA's task force against racism, Jeffrey Webb, and its disciplinary panel, Claudio Sulser. It came at a World Cup which FIFA President Sepp Blatter has pledged would not tolerate discrimination.
Webb is unhappy that evidence provided to Sulser's panel — of fans chanting gay slurs, wearing black face make-up and carrying banners with far-right symbols — did not result in any sanctions.
"It is obvious there is a disconnect between what we in the task force deem as racism and discrimination and what the disciplinary committee deems as racism and discrimination," Webb told reporters.
Webb said a better strategy is needed at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
"It is much more of a problem in Russia," the FIFA vice president acknowledged after the briefing. "Russia itself needs a special task force, just for Russia and from an educational standpoint internally."
Sulser defended his panel's apparent inaction, saying that sanctions were not possible where no specific player or team was targeted.
"There have been isolated cases," Sulser said through a translator, before adding that he did want to "intervene only for the sake of intervening."
Asked about dropping a case against Mexico fans chanting a slur at opposing goalkeepers, he said: "They have used words which were inappropriate, even kind of rude, which were not directed at a specific player."
The FIFA panel was supplied with evidence by monitors from not-for-profit fan groups. Those groups were given no formal role at the World Cup despite a proposal to FIFA by Webb's task force.
Webb said there was "absolutely no reason" for this failure to step up evidence-gathering.
"It is very unfortunate. We had identified this as one of our top priorities," Webb said.