‘Football is a wonderful thing!’05 March 2009

The words of legendary footballer and fervent anti racist campaigner, Lilian Thuram, as he addressed the ‘Unite Against Racism’ conference in Warsaw today.

Thuram, World Cup winner and current FARE ambassador is one of football’s most articulate voices. He spoke at length about his experiences of racism in football and how collectively, organisations such as FARE and UEFA can make a difference to the footballing landscape across Europe.

“We’re all born with prejudices,” said Thuram. “I work a lot in schools and talk to the kids. I ask them what they think of black people. They tell me that black people sing well and run fast. These are innocent prejudices, but prejudices all the same.

“Football is a wonderful thing, a unique tool that helps us overcome prejudice. By its very nature, playing or watching football means you met people. At the grassroots level, there is no such thing as skin colour.

“But at the top level, the game is often dictated by fear. When a racist incident occurs, clubs immediately say that they can’t do anything to punish the perpetrators. So we need courageous people who will take action when these things happen. I see a lot of people like that gathered here today.

Thuram also gave his own view on how the current economic downturn might affect the game. “When there is an economic crisis there is a risk that people will look for scapegoats, for those who are different. But I work to tackle racism. And football has the power to transcend these difficult times.”

His sentiments were echoed by UEFA first vice-president Şenes Erzik who earlier in the day said: “”I think you will all agree with me that football extends beyond borders, irons out differences and unleashes people's passion. You who, on a day-to-day basis, lead the fight to reduce discrimination and increase respect in football and in society as a whole – you know how difficult it is to mobilise people around an idea, even one as exciting and worthy as our commitment to combating discrimination in all its forms.”

A screening of the FARE ‘Unite Against Racism’ documentary, filmed on location during the Euro 2008, was shown to highlight the positive work the network had undertaken with UEFA, with General Secretary, David Taylor commenting on what a success the tournament had been: “With only some minor exceptions, the behaviour of the fans of the national teams could not be faulted, and for me it was truly inspiring to see how the various nationalities combined and intermingled in the fan zones and in the stadiums. That is what football should be about – not antagonism, not abuse, not violence – simply a celebration of our sport and the commitment of football fans to supporting their national team and club.”

Over 300 people then dispersed to take part in a range of workshops covering nationalism, anti-semitism and the issue of the roma minority groups. The majority of workshops were prepared, coordinated and chaired by FARE members.

The day concluded with a players panel chaired by ex Manchester Utd and Tottenham Hotspur player, Garth Crooks, who was joined by Paul Elliott, the first black player to captain Chelsea FC. Other players on hand to spark the debate included Papa Samba Ba from MKS Znicz Pruszków, Vladimír Sendrei of Roma public policy institute and Roger Guerreiro currently a Poland international playing for Legia Warszaw.

The latest high profile footballer to pledge his support to FARE, Spain European Championship winner, Marcus Senna, sent a message of support via video link. You can view this below: