The Unite Against Racism conference in Warsaw provided an ideal opportunity to learn how UEFA EURO 2012™ co-host 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 organisation is doing in partnership with the Polish Football Association. Never Again monitors and documents incidents of racism in stadiums and has trained stewards and match observers to help reduce such 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 explained how Never Again is already assisting NGOs in other former Soviet 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 high-profile actions such as the team captains reading out anti-racism messages before the EURO semi-finals, brought the anti-racism message to millions of people.

'Celebrate success'
MEP Emine Bozkurt discussed the work being done at governmental level to combat racism and discrimination, pointing out that new anti-discrimination laws are being debated in the European Parliament. She raised the matter of sanctions and penalties for racist behaviour, and emphasised how important it is to recognise the positive work that is being done to combat the problem. "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 delegates, with William Gaillard, Adviser to the UEFA President, underlining 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 question 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 racism, particularly among the young, was also stressed, with Gaillard reminding 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: 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 day and of the many concerns raised, it was highlighted that fans have to be seen as part of the solution, not just the problem, and that given the power of football, it must take responsibility to break down barriers between communities. The issues of stereotyping, denial and distrust were discussed in relation to institutional discrimination, with the suggestion that affirmative action is required to create football leaders from diverse backgrounds.

Source: uefa.com