With a year left to go before Euro 2012 kicks off activists and campaigners from across Eastern Europe were joined by Polish government officials last week to launch the FARE programme for Poland and Ukraine.
A conference at the Polish parliament heard from fan activists, ethnic minority groups and government ministers on the issues facing civil society bodies across the region and the activities underway to challenge far- right and racist activities in football.
The audience were brought together by the Never Again Association who launched key planks of the 2012 programme, including an innovative ‘inclusivity zones’ concept, an observer programme and the capacity building of minority groups.
Right-wing discourse in Ukraine
Polish government representatives from the Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Justice and Equal Opportunities and Education ministries enthusiastically pledged their support to the work of Never Again and for the work of FARE in the region.
Fan activists were more stark, “You rarely see a Ukrainian Premier League match without a display of racist, right-wing slogans. Unfortunately, it's a discourse that's embedded in the Ukrainian football scene,” said Pavel Klymenko, of Kiev-based Football Against Prejudice.
“Recognition of the real extent of the problem is the first step to fighting it,” he added.
In addition to Civil Society groups the conference was addressed by ex-footballer and FARE ambassador Paul Elliott and Poland legend Dariusz Dziekanowski. Both spoke of the need to use the icons of the game to help get the message across. “It's important to use former national team players to help minimise this problem. We can't cut it off completely, but we can minimise it,” said Dziekanowski.
Patrick Gasser, the Head of CSR for UEFA, underlined the support of the governing body for plans to challenge social problems through football ahead of the Euros.
The Never Again (NA) Association, who run the FARE Eastern European Monitoring Centre, recently launched a far ranging monitoring report, documenting levels of hate crimes in football settings since 2009.
NA have been making news in the region recently, as founder and Chairman Marcin Kornak was awarded a high-level state distinction by the Polish President this month, days after US President Barack Obama singled out co-ordinator Rafal Pankowski during his visit to Poland telling him, “What you do is very important. Keep it up!”.
Amongst the initiatives launched last week was the ‘Inclusivity Zones’ concept which will designate hundreds of public spaces across Poland and Ukraine as welcome and open places, where difference will be valued. The idea is being hailed as an innovative step and is expected to attract widespread support.