'It takes courage to combat racism'04 March 2009

Wednesday's afternoon session of the Unite Against Racism conference in Warsaw was given over to players who discussed their experiences of racism in the game. Lilian Thuram, the most capped player for France and now a passionate anti-racism campaigner, spoke to the delegates in a Q & A session, before a lively panel discussion which included Brazilian-born Poland international Roger Guerreiro and Senegalese midfielder Papa Samba Ba.

Lilian Thuram, former France international
We talk about racism in football as if it only existed only in stadiums, but it is exists also in society. To combat racism first, we must understand that racism is part of our culture. Unfortunately some people think there is not that much racism around today. I think there has been a lack of courage to see things how they are. We have to look at our history then deconstruct the prejudices we all have. The fact that [Barack] Obama is [United States] president clearly changes things. Racism is in the imagination, it is how you imagine others. With Obama as president, it will challenge people's imaginations. Think back to the 1950s and [civil rights activist] Rosa Parks, who could not take a seat on the bus – and yet 50 years later, [the United States] can elect a black President.

Papa Samba Ba, MKS Znicz Pruszków
[In one game] the referee was doing nothing to stop the abuse. I got to a stage where I could not take any more. There had been a foul and I lost my head. I was shown the yellow card. I made a gesture which I regretted and I was shown the red card. I asked why I had been shown the red card. I decided I was not going to let this go. It was hard to get over this.

Vladimír Sendrei, Roma public policy institute
When I was 21, I was the only player with dark skin in my team. There were chants against me and other demeaning things. I realised I had to get over such abuse to play. To do this, I needed people around me who didn't distinguish on the colour of skin, but based on their talents and accomplishments. Kids at junior level should use football as a means of finding out more about their own cultures and the cultures of others. We have all come from different cultural backgrounds and integration and inter-cultural exchange should be fostered at junior levels.

Roger Guerreiro, Poland and Legia Warszawa
I have had the misfortune of encountering racism on the pitch and off it as well. No one is better or worse because of the colour of their skin. You are an individual and must live in society as you are. Racism is an issue related to culture and upbringing. Children watching television can see anti-racist messages. Support should come from politicians, but also from everyone with power to do something about it. We must all join forces to do something about it. The role of the footballer is very important to raise awareness, especially amongst young people.

Paul Elliott, former English professional footballer
Professional players can influence people. Good practice comes from how we conduct ourselves. We were all born free from prejudice and discrimination. It is as we grow up that different environments influence the way we think and behave. Football must challenge the way we think, and footballers have made a very positive contribution to this area. In the 1970s, the media just said racism was part of the game. It is not just part of the game. Footballers have the fundamental human right to work within a racism-free environment and their workplace is the stadium.

by Michael Harrold/uefa.com