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The European dimension

Whilst nobody is suggesting that the problem of racism has been eradicated from the game in the UK, in many places in continental Europe, racism is endemic and unchecked.

Eastern Europe

In many eastern European countries fans regularly shout racist chants, with Jewish and Roma populations particularly targeted for abuse.  Polish club Kolporter Korona Kielce, kick started a huge national debate after banning several fans for racially abusing Hernami, their own black Brazilian star.  Korona went on to become the first Polish club to produce an anti-racist team poster in late 2005.

In 2002, Slovakia faced international condemnation after England’s Ashley Cole and Emile Heskey were subjected to a torrent of racist abuse during the Euro 2004 qualifier.  The incidents caused the Slovakian ambassador to formally apologise to the English FA.  Heskey said at the time,
“It was still worse. To have the whole stadium shouting at you and making those gestures was frightening, to be fair. There were even people sat next to our bench doing things and the police next to them were doing nothing about it. There was a stage in the first half when I was getting a bit mad, but sometimes you do try and understand the stuff they've been through and they haven't seen that many black people in their country. Then again, they see black people all the time on television and there are a lot of black players around Europe, so there's no reason for it to go on like that. You feel hurt that they are looking at you for your colour, not you as a person. You want to go and perform really well and show them what you can do and hopefully change their views.”

Czech club, AC Sparta Praha were heavily fined by UEFA and ordered to play behind partially closed doors following the racist abuse of their fans against AFC Ajax in the Champions League in 2005.  Whilst UEFA is keen to punish clubs for such incidents that fall under its jurisdiction, racist abuse often goes unpunished in national leagues throughout the region.

Spain & Italy

Unfortunately, racist banners and chanting are an all too familiar sight in Italian football.  Hardly surprising then that aging ex-West Ham striker Di Canio, made repeated fascist salutes to the Lazio crowd during 2005.  The gestures caused outrage amongst the country’s Jewish population, yet Di Canio only received a fine and a one match ban.  His latest gesture came just days after Messina’s Ivory Coast defender, Marc Zoro, threatened to walk off the pitch after receiving a torrent of abuse from some Inter supporters.  The clearly distraught player was persuaded to continue by his team-mates.  The whole episode caused outrage in Italian football circles.

In Spain, their national team coach Luis Aragones, was caught on TV “motivating” his team by referring to Thierry Henry as a “Black sh*t”.  He later refused to apologise for “Using colloquial language” then dug himself deeper by digging up colonial history prior to Spain’s friendly game against England.  The subsequent match was marred by some of the most audible and relentless abuse ever seen in an international match.  Flying in the face of international condemnation, the Spanish FA served Aragones with a paltry €3000 fine.  Leon Mann, from the UK’s Kick It Out campaign commented at the time,
“We expected very little from the Spanish Football Association and are not surprised by this pitiful fine. Questions have to be asked as to why the fine is only 3,000 Euros when it took such a lengthy process to get to this decision, and why someone found guilty of a racist comment is still in a job. Imagine what would have happened if Sven-Goran Eriksson had come out and said the same. The situation in Spanish football at the moment is desperate. The only other positive is that games are now being stopped and some action is being taken as a first step, but the campaigners on the ground are still being ignored.”

More recently, Angel Maria Villar Llona, the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, ruffled the feathers of European football’s authorities and anti-racist campaigners at the UEFA Unite Against Racism conference in Barcelona.  Delegates were left astounded when Llona closed the conference by stating,
“Let's not make a mountain out of a molehill. Let's not blow it out of proportion.”

Moving forward

The situation is improving.  In 1999, Football Unites joined with other like-minded campaigns across the continent to form the Football Against Racism in Europe network.  FARE seeks to support and co-ordination anti-racist efforts throughout Europe.  In 2001 a dialogue between FARE and UEFA, European football’s governing body, was formed.  The relationship went from strength to strength, with UEFA providing much needed financial resources for the campaign, money it collects from the fines it punishes clubs for their racist incidents.  Every year, FARE organise the Action Week – Europe’s largest anti-racist event, where clubs, players, fans, campaigners and community groups throughout the land make a stance against racism. FARE also hold regular grass-roots conferences to expand the network and assist UEFA in their Unites Against Racism conferences.

Euro declaration

The European Parliament have moved the campaign forward by adopting a formal resolution on racism in football.  The one-page declaration made the rare progression into a formal resolution after more than 420 MEPs joined the call.  It calls on football authorities to do more in the fight against racism and urges UEFA to introduce sporting sanctions, such as the deduction of points or expulsion from competitions. Speaking at the adoption in Strasbourg, ex-Chelsea, Celtic and Bari player Paul Elliot said,
“Today racism is the most serious danger for football, therefore leadership in the fight against racism is crucial. We simply can’t tolerate it anymore. Nobody is above the law and everybody has the right to enjoy the beautiful game no matter what race, colour, creed or religion you are. Equal opportunity on the field of play and on the terraces is not a privilege but a fundamental right”

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