EURO 2008: Euro stars speak at anti-racism reception09 June 2008

In Basel representatives of UEFA and FARE – Football Against Racism in Europe came together with administrators, former footballers and non-governmental organisations to signal the beginning of a three-week anti-discrimination programme at UEFA EURO 2008™. They pledged their overwhelming support to the Unite Against Racism campaign during a reception organised by FARE and supported by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency – FRA at Basel’s prestigious Hilton Hotel on Saturday, 7 June 2008.

UEFA vice-president Senes Erzik underlined:“It is probably not a very flattering sign for football or society as a whole that we are gathered here a few hours before the start of UEFA EURO 2008™ to kick off the Unite Against Racism campaign. I think we all agree that, in an ideal world, we should be able to do so without such campaigns. But, given the circumstances, I believe it is a positive thing that representatives of the football family and other members of society have come together to unite against racism at the very beginning of this tournament. Racism and discrimination is a complex issue with many different forms and different targets. Discrimination is expressed against people for various reasons – skin colour, nationality, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender, religion and more. It is not simply a black and white issue.”

“We cannot close our eyes to the problem that verbal and physical violence exists in the world and in football,” said Swiss federal council EURO delegate Benedikt Weibel.

The campaign has already been supported by many of the players participating in this years’ competition, such as the Swiss captain, Alexander Frei who said: “Racism and other forms of discrimination have no place in football. It’s a game that can overcome borders and overlooks skin colour and ethnicity.”

The event saw three European stars and FARE ambassadors Yves Eigenrauch, Ramon Vega, Paul Elliiot and Anthony Baffoe, take part in a Q&A session aimed at drawing on their own collective experiences of discrimination they’ve encountered whilst playing in Europe.

Vega, the once Swiss captain and Premiership star with Tottenham Hotspur, is of Italian decent. “I played in the UK, both in England and Scotland, as well as France and Italy and I experienced discrimination in all of them. In the UK, I was the foreigner. This left me feeling very isolated. In Italy too, supporters and even fellow professionals targeted me for abuse. But football is a great leveller. This is why I am here, to help show what this great sport can do when bringing people together and stamping out racism.”

Elliot, former Chelsea, Celtic and Bari defender, said. The racism problem in the game is improving, but we still need to rely on law, and implementation of the law. Football brings people together and helps to deliver key social messages.
“I was one of the first generation of black players in the UK who received racist abuse of the ugliest kind. Banana throwing was commonplace. Now things are different but both individuals and agencies, like FARE; need to keep working together to maintain this progress.”

Ghana’s Anthony Baffoe, the Bundesliga’s first African player during his time with Cologne, added” ‘I used humour and irony to tackle racism during my time in Germany. Some fans liked it, others didn’t, but it gave me respect. Now one only has to look at the leading players across Europe. Many of them are African. Drogba, Adebayour, Kanu. It makes me proud.”

Baffoe played in many countries and was able to give his view on how racism from the terraces differed in different parts of the world. “When I played in France, the racism was hidden away. This
came to the forefront when the French national team began to field more black players. Fans said that they no longer supported the team as these players weren’t truly French, whereas in fact, they showed the world how multi-cultural France actually is.”

“In Hong Kong, people were ignorant, despite the many ethnic backgrounds there. I was constantly stared at on public transport, which was uncomfortable.”

Piara Powar, Director of FARE UK member, Kick It Out, also addressed the congregation, and said: “The last time we were gathered at the beginning of a European Championship, in Porto, we had many hopes and aspirations of what the FARE network was capable of achieving. I am delighted to say that since four years ago, we have managed to grow across the continent and the network is now active in 38 countries. Many of our aims have been met but there is still a long way to go before ridding our game of the cancer of racist abuse for good.”

The ‘Unite Against Racism’ programme, coordinated by the FARE network in conjunction with UEFA and supported of the professional players’ union FIFPro, will run throughout the tournament. It will include the advertising spot “Different Languages – One Goal: No To Racism” broadcast at every game, pitch-side boards and activities with fans. The campaign will culminate with messages of anti-racism from the team captains direct from the pitch at both semi-finals.

Notes
The Unite Against Racism campaign at UEFA EURO 2008TM is carried out by the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network in partnership with UEFA and with support of the international players union FIFPro.

Full details in English, German, French and Italian are available on www.FAREnet.org

For further details on the Fans’ Embassies programme visit www.fanguide2008.net

FARE Contacts

In English please contact
Danny Lynch, Kick it Out (London), danny@kickitout.org Tel.+44 20 768 44 884 or Mobile +44 777 903 6696

In German and issues relating to Austria
Bettina Surtmann, FairPlay-vidc (Vienna), surtmann@vidc.org Tel.+43 1 713 35 94-86
Mobile +43 69919233945

For issues relating to Switzerland
Joni Kreutner, GRA-Foundation against racism and anti-Semitism (Zurich), j.kreutner@gra.ch
Mobile +41 76 394 00 88