About 360 people attended an opening gala of an international football summit held Monday night in Grand Cayman.
Among the dignitaries at the gala to kick off the CONCACAF Sports Summit were Toyko Sexwale, a businessman, politician and anti-apartheid campaigner who served in prison in Robben Island with Nelson Mandela; Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, president of FIFA, the world football federation; and Jeffrey Webb, president of CONCACAF.
Mr. Sexwale, who was the keynote speaker for the event at the Ritz-Carlton, urged Mr. Webb to seriously tackle the issue of racism in football, noting the “power of sports as a unifier, especially football, considered the world’s most popular sport.
Mr. Webb, a Caymanian who early this year was appointed chairman of the FIFA Anti-Racism and Discrimination Task Force, introduced several resolutions and new measures during the 16th Congress of FIFA in Mauritis this May to tackle the racist behavior that has plagued football over the years.
At that meeting in May, Mr. Webb said, “We have a special responsibility in the way we can impact football and society. One of the opportunities this task force has is its vast reach throughout FIFA’s 209 member associations, where we can implement the resolutions in every region and every country where football is played, bringing universality to the mechanisms that combat racism and discrimination.”
During his speech Monday night, Mr. Sexwale urged Mr. Webb to keep up his efforts to eradicate racism and discrimination from a sport played in more than 200 countries, as eliminating it from football would have a knock-on social effect.
Mr. Sexwale regaled the audience with tales of himself and Mr. Mandela, as well as other political prisoners incarcerated at Robben Island, playing football, pointing out that playing the sport together had kept their spirits up. He said the game enabled the prisoners to put aside political barriers. “We could all come together and forget our differences,” he said.
“Sport gives hope,” he added.
Recounting that FIFA expelled apartheid-era South Africa from its membership, Mr. Sexwale said FIFA’s action had helped highlight the situation in South Africa at that time to the world and had taken a strong stance against apartheid.
Prior to Mr. Sexwale taking the stage, both Mr. Blatter and Mr. Webb gave brief speeches. They called Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin to the stage to present him with a FIFA pennant and a medal.
The FIFA summit, titled “Transformation through Partnership,” includes several seminars and talks and was due to continue through Tuesday. It included a presentation by Mr. Blatter, who also touched on the subject of racism in the sport and its role in helping to bridge ethnic, religious and social divides.
Mr. Blatter described a recent trip to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina – the scene of devastating ethnic conflicts in the 1990s. There, he said, he witnessed how football appeared to be helping to unify local people, adding that he hoped football could also act as a catalyst for bringing the people of Israel and Palestine together.