24 June 2009
Racism in football can be beaten, just as apartheid rule in South Africa was defeated, says Tokyo Sexwale, a political prisoner on South Africa’s Robben Island for nearly two decades and now a Cabinet minister in the country.
Sexwale believes it is time to send a strong message to the world by taking far more stringent actions against people who hurl racial slurs during football matches. He said racial equality was a guiding principle for Nelson Mandela – known to South Africans as Madiba – who spent 27 years in prison, mostly on Robben Island.
“Madiba is the number one supporter of anti-racism, it is what he has stood for throughout his life,” Sexwale says. “That is why he has close ties with Fifa; it’s because Fifa promotes and stands for the same values.
“In this country, we fought very hard against apartheid because we were convinced that the system was wrong, we knew that it could be defeated,” said Sexwale, who spent many years in prison with the former South African President. “We must therefore stand together to fight and defeat racism in football. ”
Sexwale is actively involved in Fifa’s anti-racism initiatives. Together with former Chelsea and Charlton Athletic player Paul Elliot and Federico Addiecho, head of corporate social responsibility for FIFA, Sexwale has made a strong appeal to the world to work together in combating the scourge of racism.
One result of this effort is that this week’s Confederations Cup semifinal matches will feature the captains of Brazil, South Africa, Spain and the USA making brief statements in support of the fight against racism in football.
Talking about his 18 years as a political prisoner on Robben Island, Sexwale says it was the power of football, and the joy the game brought to his fellow prisoners, that lifted their spirits and helped to keep them going during tough times.
“As you know, in prison we didn’t have any privileges,” he says. “When we were behind bars and denied all sorts of things, football was the only thing that they couldn’t keep away from us.
“We would form makeshift balls and kick them inside our cells until they allowed football in the prison.”
This led to the formation of the now acclaimed Makana Football Association, the football league in which political prisoners at Robben Island competed.
Paul Elliot notes that there is much to be done to educate football fans across the globe. “Education is the best, we need to create more awareness all over the world on how we can end racism,” Elliot says.
“I know from personal experience what it’s like to hear the boos and jeers from the stands. A lot of work has been done to end racism, but a long road lies ahead before we can see an end to this.”