MANCHESTER, England (AP) — FIFA has disbanded its anti-racism task force, declaring the work complete despite ongoing concerns about discriminatory behavior at matches in 2018 World Cup host Russia.
FIFA wrote to members of the task force to say that it has "completely fulfilled its temporary mission" and "is hereby dissolved and no longer in operation."
"I wish I could say that I am shocked by the decision, but unfortunately I am not," task force member Osasu Obayiuwana told The Associated Press on Sunday. "The problem of racism in football remains a burning, very serious and topical one, which need continuous attention.
"I personally think there remained a lot of very serious work for the task force to have done — the 2018 World Cup in Russia being one such matter. But it is evident the FIFA administration takes a different position."
The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer's governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.
Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced exactly a year ago as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari, who also sits on FIFA's ruling council.
"We never had a single meeting under his chairmanship," Obayiuwana said. "I wrote him, more than once, asking for when a meeting would be held. But I never received a reply from him."
Obayiuwana, a journalist, broadcaster and qualified lawyer, received the letter from FIFA on Friday announcing the end of the task force and shared its contents.
"The FIFA Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination was set up with your help on a temporary basis to develop recommendations for FIFA," wrote Gerd Dembowski, FIFA's diversity and anti-discrimination manager.
"We are therefore delighted to inform you that all of the task force's recommendations have been implemented and all resulting projects are ongoing."
FIFA told task force members that it "may solicit further advice ... if required."
Former FIFA presidential candidate Tokyo Sexwale used his speech before the election that saw Gianni Infantino elected in February to call for the anti-racism task force to become a permanent committee.
"Racism is going to be with us for a long, long time," Sexwale, a former anti-apartheid activist, told the FIFA Congress. "It can't just be a committee that comes ad hoc."
But in a letter to members of the task force explaining its termination, FIFA highlighted successes including the introduction of an anti-discrimination monitoring system at matches, the launch of a "Good Practice Guide ," starting a team of footballing legends and a new diversity award. Fatma Samoura, FIFA's first female and first African secretary general, will present the award on Monday at the SoccerEx convention in Manchester.
FIFA also told task force members that its own initiatives "actually exceed the working group's recommendations" — trumpeting its "Say No to Racism" campaign, women's leadership conferences and programs in Russia. There are less than nine months until Russia stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.
Earlier this month, European soccer's governing body, UEFA, ordered Russian club Rostov to close a stadium section for a Champions League game as punishment for the racist behavior of fans.
The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, against a total of 83 for the previous two seasons combined.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports