FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta has described racism as
“The most serious problem facing football today.”
Laporta was speaking at a one-day conference, the repeat of the highly successful 2003 Unite Against Racism conference held at Chelsea, which brought together more 300 delegates from all corners of European football. The gathering, hosted by FC Barcelona, sees a unique coming together of grass-roots campaigners with the game’s high ranking decision-makers.
The Barcelona president went on to say,
“Football is not just a sport, but a powerful means of integrating people.”
Delegates at the conference heard a common clarion call from UEFA, senior Spanish political figures, action groups, non-governmental organisations and former professional footballers. The call was for the campaign against racism to take on fresh impetus throughout Europe, with football acting as a catalyst to change and educate minds.
UEFA Chief Executive Lars-Christer Olsson stated,
“We have to get inside minds of racists, particularly the intelligent ones, to educate people and change their attitudes. Sport can help to bring about change – let's not just kick racism out of football but out of society as a whole.”
UEFA communications and public affairs director William Gaillard called upon football to use its popularity as a uniting force against racism.
“Racism is a fundamental problem within society, and football can set a positive example for young people and for the future. As a fan of football, I am ashamed to see racist conduct when I watch games.”
Spreading the message
Piara Powar from FARE partner Kick It Out,called on national associations to play their part in spreading the anti-racist message throughout their respective countries, particularly those where such problems have surfaced.
“Racism has victims – fans, professional players, ethnic communities are suffering – so it must be challenged. I hope people will go away from this conference with fresh ideas to work together for change.”
Former Chelsea FC and Celtic FC player Paul Elliott, now an adviser to the UK Commission for Racial Equality, said,
“I have been in positions [during matches] where I have seen bananas thrown at players, and heard monkey chants. We have made tremendous progress in the fight against racism, but a tremendous amount of work still needs to be done. There has to be a policy of zero tolerance towards racism, and a sense of collective responsibility among everyone involved. Football can be a wonderful vehicle to bring everyone together, and this conference is a way of laying down a solid basis to move forward.”
The Spanish hosts of the conference were quick to underline that intensive work is being done in a country that is also undergoing constant social change. Spanish state secretary for sport Jaime Lizavesky, said,
”Spain is now a country with many cultures, and sport has a vital role in helping to create an inter-cultural society here.”