Racism in Football – Football against Racism: The FARE Experience

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 Islamophobic 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.
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.
One successful anti-racist campaign FARE has developed is the Action Week against Racism and Discrimination, which takes place annually in October. The campaign aims to boost public awareness of the problem of racism and racial discrimination and to create a united front in dealing with this malign influence on Europe's number one sport. FARE offers financial support for a range of grass-roots activities to address local problems in football clubs at the community level. Last season's Action Week saw a record number of more than 700 events in 37 countries in and around football grounds all over Europe. In Germany alone, 750,000 cards with the slogan "Show Racism the Red Card" have been distributed to fans. Europe's top stars also supported the campaign. All 32 teams of the UEFA Champions League participated in the "Unite Against Racism" campaign, reaching more than 600,000 fans directly at the matches and millions more via live broadcast on television.
Other transnational projects run by FARE include the Mondiali Antirazzisti -- an annual anti-racism World Cup for fans and minorities in Italy -- and a programme in Eastern Europe to counter the neo-Nazi presence in Poland, challenge racist nationalism and xenophobia in the Balkans and use football to tackle the exclusion of Roma in Slovakia. Even if the problems associated with racism seem to be a European phenomenon, it is in no way limited to the European game. Sports media increasingly report in cases of racist incidences in countries such as Australia, Brazil, Israel and Mexico. The world's governing football authority, FIFA, has been aware of this racism for some time, but recent events, especially in Europe, have made the need for concerted action more urgent. Recognizing its unique role in coordinating expertise from all corners of the globe, FIFA established an alliance with the FARE network in 2006. Since then, FARE has worked with FIFA at the World Cup 2006 in Germany, conducted a survey with all 207 FIFA member associations and launched a call for projects from grass-roots initiatives outside Europe. Currently, an international workshop on anti-discrimination is being organized. In 2006, FIFA introduced tough new punishments for racist abuse. The Association instructed all its member organizations to enforce the new measures, resulting in a new disciplinary code (article 58) for dealing with racist abuse at all levels of the game and valid for all registered 300,000 football clubs and all 38 million registered players.
FARE attempts not only to fight overt forms of abuse inside stadiums but also to tackle hidden or institutionalized forms of racism: the exclusion of ethnic minorities and migrants in different levels in the administration of football. Across Europe, ethnic minorities are underrepresented in stadiums, football administration and sometimes in professional football leagues. An example for open discrimination by football governing bodies is the limitation of the number of migrants in amateur football, common in Italy or Spain. In Austrian amateur football, the number of foreigners, including even citizens of the European Union, is limited to three per team. During its last conference at the French Football Federation in Paris, FARE discussed a more pervasive dimension of racism, embedded in the unequal football relations between Europe and Africa. These relations are a legacy of Europe's colonial past. It manifests itself in the talent drain of young Africans who are "exported" to Europe by unscrupulous agents and most often end up as illegal immigrants.
FARE believes that football has a universal appeal across all communities, the impact of which cannot be underestimated. It is important to work with victims of racism and those affected by social exclusion in many places, to aid their integration and address problems of social cohesion. Ethnic minorities are traditionally underrepresented in the game, except as players. It must be our goal to bring minorities closer to the game through their integration into all levels of football -- teams, stadiums, administration, coaching.
Evaluating the success so far of the anti-racism movement in football, one can say that initiatives like FARE have made racism in football visible throughout Europe. There is now a greater awareness of the so-called "silent majority" and of the media, which results in more media reports and disciplinary action. A major achievement of FARE is linking diverse fan clubs to migrant and ethnic organizations. In addition, football governing bodies have taken a more proactive stance on racism. FARE has also put homophobia on the agenda of European football. Thanks to the FARE network's concerted campaigning, change is becoming evident. However, problems still exist. Racial abuse and the exclusion of ethnic minorities and migrants, as well as discrimination, continue on and off the pitch. The future work of FARE with UEFA, FIFA and European Union institutions will not only lay emphasis on joint efforts to eradicate racially motivated abuse inside stadiums, but will also encourage clubs and associations to introduce policies and measures advancing diversity, to ensure equal representation of migrants and ethnic minorities at all levels of football -- not just on the field. The aim must be to have the same mix of different faces on the playing field represented in the boardrooms of clubs and football associations.