The impetus to drive racism out of football is continuing to grow – with UEFA joined by many of its member associations as well as European campaigners in a concerted effort.
At the recent anti-racism conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, organised by the pan-European FARE movement, delegates heard that a wider spectrum of organisations and individuals are now involved in the fight to drive this evil from the game.
UEFA assistance programmes manager Patrick Gasser told the conference,
“The momentum to root racism out of our game is still growing. This year, the involvement of corporate sponsors and player personalities as ambassadors present new possibilities for reinforcing and building on anti-racist action.”
Major stars such as Arsenal FC and France striker Thierry Henry and Barcelona FC's Samuel Eto'o have been prominent personalities within the European football family's anti-racism campaign. In addition, UEFA and FARE have co-operated for several years within the campaign, with European football's governing body donating considerable funds each year to help finance FARE's activities.
In addition, UEFA is encouraged by the fact that 26 of its 52 member associations have submitted anti-racism projects under the UEFA/FARE Unite Against Racism banner. The associations are: England, Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Georgia, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Scotland, Norway, Spain, Armenia, Belgium, Ukraine, Israel, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Moldova, Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden and Wales. Three projects from Bosnia-Herzegovina, F.Y.R. Macedonia and Hungary are under consideration.
“FARE's input has helped UEFA set up the general framework and guidelines for encouraging national associations to engage in anti-racist action,” said Gasser.
UEFA's efforts hit new levels in 2002, when the Executive Committee approved a €1.7m fund for financial assistance to associations' anti-racist projects. The body also shared in the organisation of the “Unite Against Racism” Conference in London in 2003, and published a guide to good practice, in which it spread the anti-racism message, and explained measures that could be taken against racist conduct on and off the pitch.
An anti-racist campaign was also organised around last year's UEFA Cup final and UEFA Super Cup match, and the campaign was highlighted on uefa.com for the UEFA Champions League final in Gelsenkirchen, Germany last May.
UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal was another crucial platform for the campaign to rid football of racists.
“Working through fan embassies, FARE contributed to the fun, festivity and security of EURO 2004. It was a great example of fans, teams, local authorities and law enforcement bodies, the media, non-governmental organisations working together to preserve and protect the joy and magic of football,” said Gasser.
Despite the many positive things, it is clear to UEFA and its partners that the campaign must be intensified.
“We have no intention of letting up – the persistence of racist incidents warns us,” explained Gasser. Around a dozen disciplinary sanctions have been imposed by UEFA for racist behaviour.
“Hopefully this shows not that there are more racist incidents, but that campaign efforts have lowered the tolerance towards racism among fans, players, stewards and officials.”