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Statement by Mr. Githu Muigai, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance at the occasion of the International Day on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 19 March 2010

Madame High Commissioner, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentleman,

I am very pleased and honored to be herewith you today to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Almost one year after the holding of the Durban Review Conference, this event reminds us about the dire need to pursue our collective efforts in the fight against racism. It also provides us with an opportunity to pay tribute to all the individuals who have suffered from racism or who continue to suffer from it on a daily basis in all regions of the world. Fighting racism requires enacting anti-discrimination laws. But that is far from being enough.

Overcoming racism also requires addressing public and private attitudes which comfort, justify and perpetuate racism at all levels and in all areas of life. To that effect, approaches which have the ability to get the message across in a simple and powerful manner are more than ever necessary to encourage as many people as possible to engage in this fight. In this year marked by mass sports events, such as the Olympic Games, the Football World Cup or the Commonwealth Games, which are followed by a very large and diverse public audience, I believe that promoting the message of tolerance and non-discrimination through sport may well constitute one of the approaches needed.

Excellencies,

As recognized by the General Assembly, sport has the potential to contribute to an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding. While relying on the concepts of competition and rivalry, sport also stands for human values such as respect, justice, universality, cooperation and solidarity. By bringing together individuals from a great variety of horizons, sport is an inspirational means to promote peace, social cohesion, integration, inclusivity, as well as diversity. And by its very nature, sport is about participation: every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind.

Thus, as recalled in the draft resolution on “a world of sports free from racism and discrimination” sponsored by Brazil and South Africa, one needs to recognize the potential of sport as a means to combat racism and discrimination. Indeed, similarly to schools, which are one of the most efficient tools to create a cohesive and tolerant society, sport – and in particular team sport – also is an effective means where both youth and adults may learn and experience for themselves, how individuals from diverse ethnic, national or religious backgrounds can interact in a harmonious manner.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On a wider scale, mass sport events also offer valuable outreach platforms to mobilize people and to convey crucial messages about equality and non-discrimination. In this regard, I would like to welcome the fact that in their respective charters or statutes, the International Olympic Committee, the Fédération Internationale de Fooball Association (FIFA) and the Commonwealth Games Federation, have all inscribed quite prominently that there shall be no discrimination of any kind on the grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise. Moreover, public campaigns such as the one entitled “Say no to racism” by the FIFA should be encouraged and supported by all means. Due to football’s popularity and influence in society, I believe that such campaigns are extremely effective in order to raise awareness and sensitize individuals from diverse geographical and cultural horizons to the long-lasting problems of racism and discrimination. I have also been very impressed by the potential federative impact of the Olympic Games on the population of the organizing country. As such, the opening ceremony of the recent Olympic Games was quite symbolic; looking back at its history and origins, Canada put forward the role played by its indigenous peoples by organizing an unprecedented dance performance of more than 300 young First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

This being said, one should have in mind that sport does not and cannot constitute a cure-all for racism and discrimination. As a reflection of the society from which it originates, sport also has its shortcomings and contradictions. Indeed, we all have seen the negative side-effects of sport, such as violence, discrimination and aggressive nationalism. For instance, we would recall that a year ago, football supporters uttered racist insults against Mario Balotelli, an Italian football player of Ghanaian origin. We would also recall the racial slurs that surrounded the 2008 campaign for the Football Association of Zambia presidency, when Hanif Adams, a Zambian man of Indian origin, ran for presidency. Examples of racism and discrimination within the world of sport are unfortunately quite numerous, therefore indicating that additional efforts are needed to eradicate racism and discrimination wherever they manifest themselves. Valuable initiatives have been taken in this regard and I would like here to refer to the general policy recommendation on combating racism and racial discrimination in the field of sport by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance which provides very concrete tools for all stakeholders.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The fight against racism is as relevant today as it has ever been in the past. As a global problem affecting all areas of life, let us ensure that we make use of every single tool at our disposal to fight this scourge. To that effect, let us take advantage of mass sport events such as the upcoming Football World Cup and the Commonwealth Games to demonstrate and convince everyone that integration, tolerance, mutual respect and diversity are real assets that may lead a team to victory.

I thank you for your attention.