The 2014 UEFA ‘Respect Diversity’conference has drawn the attention of European football on issues of diversity and exclusion across the sport.

The need to tackle racism and homophobia, give voice to minority groups, promote gender and ethnic diversity in leadership positions and empower players to be role models in fighting discrimination were all significant focus points for the 250 delegates last week.

During the two-day event (10 and 11 September) representatives from within football, political and governmental organisations, experts and Fare member delegates representing NGOs and minority groups met in Rome to find solutions and plan action against discrimination in football.

‘The fight against racism is not about gaining popularity’
On his keynote speech UEFA President Michel Platini emphasised football’s role in setting an example for a inclusive society and stressed the need for governing bodies to protect players from discrimination through a zero tolerance policy.

“Football’s extraordinary popularity also brings with it responsibilities that extended far beyond the realms of sport. Football has a duty to convey values that can help make society more diverse.”

Highlighting criticism over the summer Platini said, “Unlike the World Cup in Brazil, our zero tolerance policy is implemented and the guilty are identified and duly punished.

“Because the fight against racism is not about gaining popularity and winning votes, but part of a moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable” he said.

‘You can’t have inclusion without representation’
An all-women panel, including UEFA Executive Committee member Karen Espelund, Cecile Kyenge MEP, former Italian Minister for Integration, Heather Rabbatts, English Football Association board member, and Emine Bozkurt, former Dutch MEP followed Platini’s opening speech and discussed the matter of women and ethnic minorities in football leadership positions.

Appointed in December 2011 as the English FA’s first female and ethnic minority director in 150 years Heather Rabbatts shared efforts to change the face of its “exclusively white, middle-class, middle-aged and all-male board structure”.

“Diversity is the driving force for the development of all organisations,” said Espelund.

“Whether it is as a club, a league or an association, we really need different cultures to make progress and to make sure everyone has the chance to participate.”

Education and inclusion
Focusing on UEFA President’s note on football “as a driver to progress in society”, three good practice examples lead the first day of the conference to an end stressing a key correlation between the sport, education and inclusion.

Andrea Angnelli, President of Juventus, explained the club’s alliance with UNESCO in a global anti-discrimination research project on racism in sport, which also includes a number of awareness-raising actions; representing the Dutch FA Johan van Geign presented their work to address homophobia, which gained visibility after a spot launched in November 2012; Raluca Negulescu from the Bucharest-based Policy Center for Roma and Minorities highlighted the work of NGOs in tackling the situation of Roma around Europe. She spoke of her anger at the marginalisation of Roma groups and outlined a methodology to address issues affecting communities and to empower Europe’s largest ethnic minority through football projects.

Six workshops featuring Fare delegates, experts and representatives of the football family lead the conference second day discussing a range of topics.

These included a focus on new sanctioning rules; a follow-up on the first day’s panel on female and ethnic minority representation in leading positions; working with ethnic minorities to bring about change; tackling homophobia in football and promoting the involvement of the LGBT community; discrimination in Southern Europe, which looked at Mediterranean supporter culture, immigration and discrimination; and National Association action plans, focusing on FA projects and plans to use football to tackle country-specific issues.

The workshop findings were later presented by the six panel Chairs to the general audience.

Heading the workshop on Southern Europe, Fare board member and UISP representative Daniela Conti said: “I am very happy with the workshop, it was very interesting and complete with several Mediterranean countries and different stakeholders represented.

“Ninety minutes seems very long but in the end the issues to discuss were so many that we always end up missing on something. This time perhaps it was the grassroots activities, but for the first time, we had the referees’ voice represented with the presence of Pierluigi Collina”.

Players’ panel calls for long-term action
A panel of players featuring the Dutch legend and former AC Milan coach Clarence Seedorf, AS Roma player Urby Emanuelson, former Ghana International and Fare ambassador Anthony Baffoe, former referee Pierluigi Collina and a testimony from Paris Saint-Germain womens centre back Laura Georges, concluded the two-day event.

In a 10 minute speech Clarence Seedorf made a powerful call for short and long-term action to counter discrimination using as an example of the area of diversity in management positions.

In January 2014, Seedorf made history in the Italian Serie A by becoming the first black manager with AC Milan. After being sacked in June, he brought the spotlight back to the issues of diversity in European professional football.

“How many black players have turned to coaches? We must not look at this with ‘coloured glasses’ because we are all human beings, but we need to take long and short term action and intervention” said Seedorf.

“We need to speak about it

[discrimination] and hopefully through those actions, through coming together, we can find solutions to create a better situation than what we have today.”

Keeping the momentum
Participants recognised the importance of keeping the momentum created through the conference to promote diversity and continue to address discrimination.

The conference was also an opportunity to pay tribute and recognise Ghana-born Arthur Wharton as the World’s first black football professional through the presentation of a mini-statue – a reminder of his legacy towards a more diversified football culture.


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