The conference brought together senior representatives of the Ukrainian Football Federation (FFU), club and league representatives as well as NGO’s such as the Fare partner, the East European Development Institute (EEDI).
Mridula Ghosh from the East European Development Institute, which co-organised the conference with the FFU told, “We are pleased to cooperate as an NGO with the Football Federation of Ukraine since many years. But, for the first time in its history FFU agreed to co-host this conference on tackling hate and discrimination in football.”
“I think it can be a significant step in moving us forward in Ukraine irrespective of our differences. The final resolution we all adopted could serve as a solid ground to proceed in making football truly inclusive.”
The event was organised following reports of racism at the Ukraine vs. San Marino World Cup qualifier in September. The reports cited far-right symbols and abuse directed at a Brazilian-born Ukraine international, and has led FIFA to issue a stadium ban forcing Ukraine to play a match behind close doors.
The sanction is currently being appealed by the Ukrainian FA.
Sergey Storozhenko, the First Vice-President of the FFU told the conference that Ukraine would be dealing with all issues of racism in a co-ordinated way and called on fans, institutions and others to join them.
He said “The FFU fully supports the fight against racism, far right involvement in football and other forms of discrimination.
“However we think that symbols that are important for the Ukrainian spirit have been included in the Fare manual for observers. We and many Ukrainian fans do not understand why the red-black flag, which has been a symbol of national liberation movements in Ukraine since the early 17th century is prohibited.”
The red-black flags mentioned were used by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Ukrainian Insurgent Army (OUN-UPA), a nationalist military organization active during the Second World War. The debate over flags’ connotations in modern Ukraine has come about after their use by some far-right and ultra nationalist groups in the stadiums.
In a message read out to the conference on behalf of Piara Powar of the Fare network, he said, “There are people who are using sport as a means of putting across messages of hate. This in our view is wrong and should be tackled by a combination of education, grassroots action and through leadership messages.
“Part of our job is to highlight the issues that need action by governing bodies. If football is a mirror to society, organisations like us can hold up a mirror to football to show what is happening.”