Racism in Football-Football against Racism: The Fare Experience

Article excerpt

Anti-racism campaigners have been busy over the last couple of months. Concerns over racism, xenophobia and far-right activity in and around football stadiums have reached fever pitch. Even though the new football season, 2007-2008, has barely started in Europe, we have already witnessed a progression of serious incidences.

In Italy, the notorious fans of Lazio Rome taunted opposition players with racist chanting during their home game against Dinamo Bucharest. They have also racially abused and attacked Senegal's international star Dame N'Doye during a friendly with Panathinaikos. Newcastle United supporters directed Islamo-phobic chants at Middlesbrough forward and Egyptian superstar Mido, who faced insulting references of being a terrorist and taunts like "Mido, he's got a bomb, you know". In Hungary, former national coach Kalman Meszoly remarked during a television interview about African players with Hungarian clubs: "They have barely come down from the trees". When Croatia played Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, Croatian fans formed a human U symbol representing the fascist Ustase movement responsible for mass killings of Serbs, Jews and the Roma during the Second World War. Other incidences have been reported from Austria, Germany, Lithuania, Montenegro, the Russian Federation, Scotland, Serbia and Slovakia.

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One might wonder whether the frequent reports have increased because of greater understanding of the problem by the media, fans and football governing bodies, or because of the rising tide of support for the far right. Scaremongering by mainstream politicians on immigration exacerbates the problems. The fact is that, over the last decade, awareness of the problems associated with racism and the exclusion of ethnic minorities have increased tremendously. Today, the idea of campaigning against racism in football has taken root in many European countries. Many professional football clubs, national associations and international federations, such as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), have spoken out against racism and taken firm disciplinary action against offenders.

In February 1999, when supporter groups, anti-racist non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and ethnic community organizations from 14 European countries came together in Vienna to establish the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network, the situation was rather different. Fans were not only confronted with racist abuse inside their stadiums on a weekly basis, but also faced a widespread neglect of the problem on the part of football associations and public institutions. The idea behind the establishment of FARE was to make sure that the problem was no longer swept under the carpet. By supporting and nurturing grass-roots groups and including the voices of ordinary fans of the game, FARE acts today as an umbrella organization for those challenging racism and discrimination throughout Europe. It works together with clubs, national associations, players unions and public institutions to combat racism and related forms of discrimination, such as homophobia and sexism. Currently, over 300 grass-root organizations in more than 37 European countries are linked to the FARE network. The Vienna Institute for Development and Cooperation (VIDC) acts as a central coordination office for the network.

Established with the help of the European Commission in 2001, FARE became a member of the UEFA Corporate Social Responsibility portfolio, which patners with the financial backing of the network's grass-roots projects and campaigns. As a result of this partnership, UEFA, Europe's football governing body, has taken a more proactive stance against racism. In 2002, it supported the FARE 10-Point Plan of Action. UEFA has also started a scheme to support anti-racism projects with its 53 national member associations. …