Racism will not disappear from football stadiums ‘by magic,’ warns UNESCO report

UN Photo/David Mutua

30 November 2015 – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the professional Italian association football club Juventus have issued the first exhaustive overview of the effort to tackle and root out discrimination and racism in the world’s most popular spectator sport.

“The playing fields of football are built with the profound values of fair play, equality and mutual respect – they sometimes also display unacceptable racist, xenophobic and intolerant views,” said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova said in the foreword the new report Colour? What Colour? released jointly with the Juventus Football Club over the weekend in Paris.

The report takes stock of what has been done and what is being done to combat racism and discrimination in the sport; it examines ways to assess actions undertaken and envisages other complementary actions, as well as offering examples of best practice.

Noting that “the existence of racism and discrimination in football is not a secret, but it is a shame on the game,” the 83-page report contains the fruit of research and surveys involving an international team of experts, researchers, football managers and officials, and concludes that “racism and discrimination will not disappear from the football stadium by magic.”

As the report has tried to show, they may be further reduced by systematic, coherent, and coordinated action by those who share the objective of promoting “a football of cultural diversity and social inclusion.”

All experts interviewed for this report agreed on the fact that eliminating racism and discrimination will not be a ‘walk in the park,’ but requires sustained and combined efforts from all sides, it said.

“Sometimes it is necessary to re-design the entire machine in order to achieve progress,” according to the report’s conclusion. “Sometimes re-adjusting or re-arranging some nuts and bolts is sufficient. From within the machine, it is difficult to judge, but from the outside, things may appear in a different light.”

In the foreword, Ms. Bokova argues that sport provides a unique platform to promote the values of intercultural dialogue and understanding, as well as gender equality, while reinforcing social inclusion. However, she cautions that it can also be exploited to divide and discriminate.

“We have seen the exchange of racial epithets between athletes, along with crowd taunts that are based on race, ethnic or cultural background – and these have occurred at all levels of sport,” she underscored.

“This report offers the first exhaustive overview of the challenge and proposes good practice that can be taken forward,” Ms. Bokova said, commending the Juventus Football Club for their political engagement against discrimination and racism in football.

“This report will allow UNESCO and other stakeholders to take this struggle to a higher level still,” she said.

To counter this challenge, UNESCO is acting across the board with all its partners to promoting the inclusion of anti-discrimination and anti-racism clauses in players’ contracts.

According to the UNESCO chief, since 2009, in multiple partnerships with football clubs – including Barcelona and Malaga FC (Spain), Ruby Shenzhen (China), Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia) and recently with Juventus – UNESCO has placed emphasis on the role of clubs in propagating the essential messages of tolerance, respect and inclusion.


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