The embattled international football federation FIFA reacted badly on Tuesday to a decision by Oslo’s Nobel Peace Center to back out of their joint “Handshake for Peace” project. FIFA went so far as to suggest the Nobel Peace Center was violating the spirit of fair play.
In a written statement released Tuesday afternoon, FIFA wrote that it was “disappointed to have learned from the media” that the Nobel Peace Center intended to terminate the three-year-old project, which basically involved football team captains shaking hands before and after a match. They’ve generally always done that, noted newspaper Morgenbladet last week, but in 2012, the secretary general of the Norwegian football federation NFF, Kjetil Siem, got the idea that the handshake should be “in the name of peace.” The idea was later embraced by FIFA and its controversial (and now outgoing) boss Sepp Blatter, who was thought by some to be hoping for a Nobel Peace Prize himself.
Siem, who’s been criticized for supporting the embattled FIFA boss who’s now facing a corruption probe, then proposed that the Nobel Peace Center get involved and it received the equivalent of NOK 1 million (USD 128,000) a year from FIFA for doing so. The peace project was also promoted at matches with ads on lighted billboards for “Handshake” and the Peace Center.
‘Very difficult situation for us’
Now Blatter has been pressured into resigning amidst serious charges of corruption among 14 top FIFA officials. “This is clearly a very difficult situation for us,” Bente Erichsen, director of the Nobel Peace Center, told Morgenbladet just as the center was otherwise immersed in celebrations of its 10th anniversary this month. She said the center thought the idea of the handshake symbolizing “respect and dignity, and fraternity between nations” was a good one, and in line with Peace Prize founder Alfred Nobel’s ideals. She said she still thinks football is “the right channel” to promote such ideas, but the corruption charges around FIFA have clearly tarnished its value as a partner.
“We knew there were suspicions about corruption within FIFA, that’s been known for a long time,” Erichsen said. “But there hasn’t been any evidence before now.” On Tuesday, the Nobel Peace Center’s contract with FIFA was up for re-evaluation by the center’s board. They decided to terminate it.
‘Obstructs promotion of key values’
That has upset FIFA, which stated on Tuesday that it was “reluctant to accept this unilateral approach on what is a joint initiative between the football community and the Nobel Peace Center.” FIFA went on to state that the contract termination “does not embody the spirit of fair play especially as it obstructs the promotion of the key values of peace-building and anti-discrimination.”
FIFA stated that Erichsen “stressed in a conversation with Blatter Tuesday morning that the Nobel Peace Center continued to believe in this initiative and hoped it would live on in football with FIFA.” The Handshake for Peace will continue, according to FIFA, “as an integral part of the match protocol.”
Asked whether she thinks Blatter has any chance now of winning a Nobel Peace Prize, Erichsen told Morgenbladet: “No. In any case we are the wrong partner. We have nothing to do with the (prize selection) process.”