One decade after the foundation of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network in Vienna, more than 100 campaigners, fans, football administrators, players, policy makers and experts from 28 European countries came together once again in Austria’s capital to devise the future of the network.
Over the weekend the “Football for Equality” networking conference, held at FK Austria Vienna’s Horr stadium, looked into new approaches in challenging racism and homophobia across European football. Only a few days ago Austria Vienna supporters displayed banners with far-right symbols and chanted fascist slogans during the UEFA Europa League match against Athletic Bilbao at the Horr-stadium.
In her opening address MEP Ulrike Lunacek, co-president of the LGBT Inter-Group of the European Parliament, stressed her satisfaction that FARE addressed homophobia for the first time so prominently in a conference.
For football”, Ulrike Lunacek said,
“it is also clear that there are some gay man among football players – but very few of them are out. Justin Fashanu was one: A black man, but also gay. He could not live his full potential and committed suicide because of the fear, because of the reactions, because of the prejudices. That’s why it is so important to work against this fear, to be open, breaking the surface, breaking the silence.
Also in the opening session Alexander Pollak (Fundamental Rights Agency) and Georg Spitaler (University of Vienna) revealed the main findings of the new European Union-wide study “Preventing racism, xenophobia and related intolerance in sport”. A main issue remains the absence of ethnic minorities in leading sport positions and the lack of awareness for such forms of structural discrimination, also the underrepresentation of women and girls in sport poses a problem. Several football associations regulate the access of non-nationals both at professional and amateur level, which would clearly violate existing European Community law.
UEFA Senior Manger Football and Social Responsibility, Patrick Gasser, presented details about UEFA’s RESPECT campaign which was launched in Vienna during the UEFA EURO 2008. The campaign stresses the respect for diversity and differences across the European society and is a clear statement against any form of discrimination, including homophobia.
Players reaffirm their backing for FARE
On Sunday evening a FARE reception at the Gerhard-Hanappi stadium, home of Austrian league-leaders SK Rapid, celebrated FARE’s 10th anniversary. A group of international high-profile players spoke at the event.
Rapid captain and Austrian Footballer of the Year 2009 Steffen Hofmann, explained:
“In a stadium full of people you hear dumb or abusive remarks. This happens also here at our club – but then our fans deal with it. That’s very important for us. We as players talk about incidences and we talk also to our fans so it won’t happen again. We are strictly against any kind of discrimination, since we are all coming from different countries. The important thing is that we play football together.”
FARE ambassador Paul Elliott, a former player at Celtic and Pisa, pointed out that the battle has not yet been won:
Every player has the fundamental human right to work in a racism-free environment. The most important thing is zero tolerance against racism and education at the grassroots level. Xenophobia, homophobia and other forms of discrimination are totally unacceptable in the game. FARE has adopted a very positive stand to challenge these serious issues in football. Things have become better, but there are bigger battles ahead and the fight doesn’t stop.
The next frontier lies in the structures, the boards, the councils, inclusion of minorities at all levels. In my country 40% of the players are black, but there are very few black coaches or board members.
The Surinam-born striker Samuel Koejoe (DAC Dunajská Streda) who played previously in the German and Austrian Bundesliga, recounted the story of when he was racially abused at the Hanappi-stadium twelve years ago. He gave the Rapid fans the finger. As a result he was fined by the local police and the racism remained unchallenged. Samuel Koejoe said:
The situation in football is getting a little better, because of people like you who are fighting actively against racism, and therefore I will always support FARE.
The other players at the event were Branko Bošković (SK Rapid and Montenegro) and Oliver Prudlo, chairman of the Austrian Players Union and ex-player at FC Wacker Innsbruck.
In a joint pledge the players and football stakeholders “fully support all efforts to kick racism and homophobia out of football” and call on European football to unite against discrimination. Signatories of the pledge included representatives of UEFA, the Austrian Football Association, the Austrian Football League, and public bodies such as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the Austrian Ministry for Sport and the City of Vienna – as well as members of FARE.
Reshaping FARE for the next decade
The closing session of the conference on Monday explored the way ahead for the FARE network and the expectations of the different stakeholders including ethnic and black minority communities, fans and people with disabilities. The delegates discussed the new drafted statutes of a FARE federation to be formally established at the next FARE grass-roots conference. Also a newly formed interim board started to work towards the transition of the structures of the FARE network.
The FARE networking conference (12 – 14 December 2009) was organised by the Austrian FARE founding member FairPlay. Different Colours. One Game and received financial backing from the European Commission- DG Justice, UEFA and the City of Vienna.