International Roma Day: How anti-Roma discrimination goes unacknowledged in sport08 April 2016

InoneweekinMarch2016threeincidentsinvolvingfootballfanshumiliatingRomabeggarsinSpainandItalydemonstratedthepervasiveanti-RomafeelingthatspansEuropeansociety.Allthreewereperpetratedbygroupsofwhitemales,whomockedthoseinpovertyandridiculedRomapeople.

The incidents made mainstream news and caused outrage across Europe. They were followed by condemnation and interventions from politicians who called for action.

Not just words
In the same month during the 2016 Rugby Six Nations tournament, the England prop Joe Marler called Wales forward Samson Lee, who is from the Traveller community, ‘Gypsy boy’. Campaigners from the Traveller community were critical of Marler but tournament organisers dismissed the case. The decision was later overruled by the game’s global governing body when World Rugby imposed a fine and ban on Marler.

Also in Rugby union, the Australian player Nick Cummins compared the way he was feeling after a game to “sweating like a Gypsy with a mortgage” during a post-match interview.

Anti-Roma chants and words including “Roma” and “Gypsy” are used as slurs to humiliate and degrade fans and Roma communities. At football matches in parts of Europe this can involve tens of thousands of people. The majority of incidents go unreported, unacknowledged and followed by a lack of action from football authorities and law enforcement bodies.

They may be mere words to some people but words that reinforce lines of prejudice that reinforce the systemic exclusion that the Roma have been subjected to for decades.

Celebrating Roma strength and resilience
April 8th was first declared International Roma Day in 1990, since then it has been supported by global political and religious leaders. Pope John Paul II exhorted his followers to treat Romanies with compassion and respect, and the Dalai Lama has joined a candel lighting ceremony to commemorate the day.

Raluca Negulescu, the Director of the Bucharest Policy Center for Roma and Minorities who is also Vice-Chair of the Fare Board, spoke for many when she said, “Celebrating the Roma minority’s strength and resilience in the face of so many challenges shouldn’t be limited to April 8th.

“In our work, the celebration of Roma happens every single day through awareness and long term commitment of all relevant stakeholders, civil society, public authorities, private sector and the many communities we support, to contribute significantly to a positive change in curbing marginalisation and discrimination.”

Decade of Roma Inclusion
The end of 2015 saw the end of the “Decade of Roma Inclusion”, a collaboration between the EU, European governments and NGOS to address discrimination and close the gap between Roma and the rest of society, whether this focus has been successful remains an open question but across Europe Roma people continue to face segregation and an uncertain future.

And the despite the progress in awareness Roma community groups record scenarios in which extremist groups, individuals, public officials and politicians continue to openly discriminate against Roma, it follows a parallel rise of Europe’s far-right and in many European countries a failure to tackle a racist political discourse, but it seems some pubic figures just don’t care if they insult the Roma.

The battle of Roma groups in Spain in recent years to eradicate the pejorative synonyms of the word Roma, which includes the descriptipn of some who cheats, from the Royal Academy of Spanish Language dictionary.

Sport and Roma inclusion
In 2014, an EU working group on Roma inclusion led by Lívia Járóka MEP, at the time the only Roma politician in the European parliament, noted the “practice of sports, especially football, which enjoys such a great popularity globally” as an “effective tool for breaking out of poverty and developing a positive sense of identity.”

“Encouraging the participation of disadvantaged children in competitive or mass sports, as well as their training and education for an active life, is an investment in the future of our society” said the report.

In Romania, the Policy Centre for Roma and Minorities have been making this a reality. Their activity focus is clear: “through our grassroots work we look to empower marginalised Roma communities in Romania via a synergy of interventions focused on education (non-formal and remedial), sport (mainly football), arts (dance, music, theatre, film), mentorship, research and community.

“We are nurturing platforms of change at the heart of the marginalised communities we serve.”

The Policy Centre was recently asked by FIFA to join the ‘Football For Hope’ initiative for a programme that impacts on the lives of 52 Roma and non-Roma children in one of the poorest and most marginalised areas of Bucharest, the Ferentari neighbourhood.

In the meantime the supporters involved in the three incidents in March seemed unrepentant, a spokesperson of a PSV fan group was quoted as saying “at least they [the Roma women] made some money”.

A Bulgarian Roma boy plays soccer at a school in the Roma suburb of Fakulteta in Sofia, before the visit of U.S. billionaire investor George Soros, June 11, 2007. Soros is in Bulgaria to take part in an international initiative "Decade of Roma Inclusion". Eight south eastern European states launched a 10-year initiative in 2005 to help millions of Roma Gypsies escape the discrimination, segregation and poverty that has isolated them on the margins of mainstream society. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov (BULGARIA) Picture Supplied by Action Images *** Local Caption *** 2007-06-11T171139Z_01_SOF19_RTRIDSP_3_BULGARIA-SOROS.jpg

REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov, Supplied by Action Images