By Paul Nicholson
February 28 – Focus this weekend will inevitably be on the game changing decisions regarding video assistant referees at the meeting of FIFA’s rule making committee. But on Friday the governing body addresses arguably even more important and potentially life changing issues with its 4th Conference for Equality and Inclusion at FIFA House in Zurich.
This year titled ‘Pass it on – Hope through Football’, the agenda focuses on social, cultural, religious and political barriers and how football can be an action for change in breaking those barriers and attitudes that erected them.
The event will be streamed live on FIFA’s Facebook and YouTube channels and features a line up that includes FIFA president Gianni Infantino and a keynote address from Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General, International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC).
Designed to provide practical examples of how football can used to breakdown barriers and bring hope, panellists include Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan, Founder and Executive Director, Horn of Africa Development Initiative (HODI), Loretta Claiborne, Chief Inspiration Officer, Special Olympics International, Warshan Hussin, Soccer Without Borders and Chan Yuen Ting, the first female head coach in the Hong Kong Premier League.
The previous conferences have been focussed more towards gender equality but Honey Thaljieh, FIFA Corporate Communications Manager and the driving force behind the conference since its inception, said that theme had been widened this year.
“Our main priority is to make this conference a call for action,” said Thaljieh. “We need to realise that equality and inclusion are not abstract concepts. We want people to embrace change regardless of gender, nationality or culture. There is a lot of crisis worldwide but football can change lives and we can pass this on to the next generation.”
Thaljieh is no stranger to breaking through social and political barriers. A Palestinian, she was a co-founder of the women’s national team and its first captain. After her playing career was cut short by injury she stayed within the sport. She was the first woman in the Middle East to obtain a FIFA Masters and is now a full time FIFA employee, and has created sports initiatives for thousands of boys and girls throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, providing them with alternative avenues and opportunities.
She has gathered similarly impressive people for the conference including former West Ham, Mali and French footballing legend Frédéric Kanouté and current Ugandan star Jean Sseninde, who will participate in a ‘keynote conversation’.
The call for action is a vital objective of this conference for Thaljieh and FIFA, and the final session on Friday looks at actionable recommendations for fostering positive change in and through football, and achieving equality and inclusion in sports and society.
Panellists include Federico Addiechi, Head of Sustainability and Diversity, FIFA; Sarai Bareman, Chief Women’s Football Officer, FIFA; Tom Fodstad, Former professional footballer – Norway Fiona May, Head of Integration, Italian Football Association; and Alexey Smertin, Anti-Discrimination Officer and former professional footballer, Football Union of Russia.
See the full conference programme at http://resources.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/homeoffifa/02/93/08/16/fcei2018_brochure_a5_final_for_print_neutral.pdf
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