Finnish athletes demand respect20 May 2005

With support of the FARE network a new, athletes-driven campaign to promote tolerance through sports has been launched at the Olympic stadium in Helsinki.

The RESPECT – Sports without Prejudice campaign has been initiated by Liikkukaa!, a 3000 member strong NGO who have worked over the past ten years to use sports for social inclusion, prevention of prejudice and to keep racism out of Finnish sports.

At the launch a poster was unveiled, featuring HJK Helsinki team manager and Ex-Newcastle United player Keith Armstrong, ice hockey international Kimmo Kuhta, black Finnish international basketball player Maurizio Pratesi, Paralympics gold medal winner Marjaana Väre and Liikukaa’s chairman Claes Andersson, a former minister of culture. The poster states that everyone deserves respect regardless of their culture, age, abilities and gender. Verbal and physical abuse must be banned. Diversity is richness for the nation; and all athletes, coaches, referees, fans and parents must help keep it that way.

Maurizio Pratesi gave testimony about his personal experiences with racism. He said he can never forget the day when he was being called a negro for the first time, and hoped the campaign makes people think how they treat each other.

Campaign director Christian Thibault disclosed in his speech that:
“Foreigners in Finland have very little opportunities to join traditional sports-teams. They are forced to start their own sport clubs or they have to participate in segregated groups that are designed by authorities for foreigners only”.

20-25% of the football teams in the Helsinki division are migrant-teams. They are without proper funding and in need of professional organisation and training facilities.

Migrant and foreign athletes cannot enter a football field without risking verbal, racist and physical abuse. At the match Finland versus Germany Gerald Asamoah was called “Nazi-Nigger” by a crowd of spectators. There is still a need for clear official policy towards the racist meaning of the word “Neekeri”.

We are calling out to athletes, teachers, coaches, parents, fan-groups and referees to spearhead the movement against racism”.

The posters will be distributed to schools, youth clubs, sports arenas and similar places. The core message of the campaign will also be disseminated trough the media. The respect campaign is also supported by the Finnish Sports Federation (SLU) and the Finnish Ministry of Education.