July 3, 2014 at 7:58 pm

World Cup indirect kicks: FIFA officials butt heads over discrimination complaints

Belgian fans are recruiting Brazilians to join them as their country plays the South American nation's rival Argentina in the quarterfinals Saturday. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert / Associated Press)

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 against football federations, which are responsible for the behavior of fans inside stadiums. He said 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 not 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 in March.

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.

Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s director of corporate social responsibility, said a more thorough program could not be created in time “at the highest level that FIFA requires for this World Cup.”

“Training of anti-discrimination officers for each of the 32 participating associations is not something you can do in the proper way in such a short period of time,” Addiechi said.

The most prominent fan monitoring group, Fare, worked mainly in Europe with less experience of “specific matters in other regions,” he said.

Fare was an official partner of European football’s governing body at the 2012 European Championship where it helped prosecute a series of cases for discrimination. Those included Croatia and Russia, which have escaped sanction in Brazil for fans carrying far-right banners.

“It is obvious that these are two very different tournaments and opinions,” Sulser said. “The disciplinary committee tries to adopt a coherent behavior.”

Sulser highlighted that his panel banned Croatia defender Josip Simunic for 10 matches ahead of the World Cup. Simunic led fans in a Nazi-era chant after a decisive playoff win.

Belgians recruiting Brazilian supporters

This is as close to ‘rent-a-crowd’ that the World Cup will come. And it won’t cost Belgium anything.

Expected to be outnumbered by tens of thousands of Argentina fans at Saturday’s quarterfinal at the 70,000-capacity Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots gently stoked a regional rivalry to suit his ends.

“The Brazilians expect only one thing and that is that we beat the Argentinians,” Wilmots said Thursday, referring to a long and sometimes bitter rivalry between the neighboring football giants.

And after ploughing headfirst into the fiery debate, he quickly added: “But I am not getting into that issue.”

Belgian fans traveled in their thousands to group games, adding patches of bright red in the grandstands. But since planning for the knockout stages is fraught with uncertainty, far fewer were at the second round game against the United States in Salvador, and fewer still are expected on Saturday.

“We are proud to see our colors in the stadium. But if they are 2 or 2000, it is not a problem. We are used to hostile environments,” Wilmots said.

“The more Belgian backers the merrier, but we will also get a lot of Brazilian backing,” he said.

Players have already received a boost by seeing the wild scenes of support back home, where the backing for the Red Devils is unprecedented.

In its group stage matches, Argentina felt like it was playing at home, with tens of thousands of traveling Argentines wearing the team’s colors — painting the stands in light blue and white.

But in the round of 16 match against Switzerland in Sao Paulo, the Argentines found themselves outnumbered, and at times drowned out by Brazilian fans who can’t stay neutral when their Latin American rival is playing.

The Brazilians booed and whistled when Argentina had the ball and shouted “Ole” when the Swiss strung a few passes together.

As the Argentina fans joined together for a popular song in which they vow to own Brazil’s World Cup, the Brazilian crowd responded by chant “Pentacampeao,” or five-time champion, reminding their neighbors of who has the most World Cup titles. Argentina has two.

Within Brazil, Argentina is seen as the main challenger for the final at the Maracana stadium on July 13, and just about every home fan would like to see the neighbors eliminated earlier.

Sore throat bug going around German team

Seven Germany players have been struggling with illness ahead of Friday’s World Cup quarterfinal against France, although coach Joachim Loew is not expecting any of them to miss the match.

Loew says, “One-third of our squad has been complaining about a sore throat. … But yesterday and today all players have been training and none were feeling exhaustion. I just hope that stays stable until tomorrow.”

Germany played its group matches in the warmer, northeastern climates of Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife, then beat Algeria in the second round in a cool and damp game in the southern city of Porto Alegre.

Center back Mats Hummels missed the Algeria game due to illness but Loew indicated he’ll be back against France. Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is also expected back from severe cramps.