Poland's solid campaign against racism04 March 2009

The United Against Racism conference in Warsaw provided an ideal opportunity to learn how UEFA EURO 2012™ co-hosts Poland is contributing solidly to the fight against racism and discrimination in football.

'Positive force'
Rafał Pankowski, spokesman of FARE's Polish partner Never Again, spoke of the work his association is doing in partnership with the Polish Football Association. Never Again monitors and documents incidents of racism in stadiums and has trained stewards and game observers to help reduce their occurrences. “Racism is a reflection of society and was not created in the stadium,” he said. “We believe we can make a difference. Football is a positive force in society and we must live up to the challenges of the past and of the future too.”

Message spread
Pankowski said he would share his work with groups in Ukraine, co-hosts of UEFA EURO 2012™, and spoke of how Never Again is already helping NGOs in other former USSR countries. The need to share best practice between organisations was a common theme throughout the day. A film highlighting the success of the Unite Against Racism campaign at UEFA EURO 2008™ illustrated how the combination of grassroots and fan events, coupled with more high-profile actions such as the four team captains reading out anti-racism messages prior to the semi-finals, brought the anti-racism message to millions of people.

'Celebrate success'
MEP Emine Bozkurt then spoke of the work being done at governmental level to combat racism and anti-discrimination, pointing out that new anti-discrimination laws are being debated in the European Parliament. She raised the issue of sanctions and penalties for anti-racist behaviour, and emphasised how important it is to recognise the positive work that is being done to combat racism. “We should celebrate successes, but we need evaluation,” she said. “What have we achieved and what more can we do?”

Her remarks prompted a lively debate among the delegates, with William Gaillard, Advisor to the UEFA President, stressing UEFA's zero tolerance policy towards racism. “We use the whole arsenal of penalties at our disposal and the results show the phenomenon is diminishing considerably,” he said. Gaillard added, however, that the issue of punishment is complicated and not as cut-and-dry as often portrayed in the press. “Do fines really impact the people who are guilty of discrimination, or does it hold the club hostage to the action of a very small group of supporters?” he asked. The need to educate and raise awareness of the problems of racism, particularly among the young, was also discussed, prompting Gaillard to remind delegates that grants for social projects are available through UEFA's HatTrick assistance programme on behalf of its 53 member associations.

The conference then split into the five workshops based on Roma minorities and football, Football against racism and discrimination, Ethnic minorities in football, Tackling institutional discrimination, and the Danger of nationalism and anti-semitism. Their findings were presented later in the afternoon and of the many issues raised, it was stressed that fans need to be seen as part of the solution, not just as a problem, and that given the power of football, it must take responsibility to break down barriers between communities. The problems of stereotyping, denial and distrust were raised in relation to institutional discrimination, with the suggestion that affirmative action was needed to create football leaders from diverse backgrounds.

by Michael Harrold/uefa.com