Piara Powar is the Executive Director of the FARE Network, an organisation which seeks to tackle all forms of discrimination at all levels of football across Europe – in stadiums, on the pitch, in administration, in coaching and sport education.
At present, the FARE Network's Action Week is currently taking place. Action Weeks are designed to unite supporters, clubs, ethnic minorities and communities affected by other forms of discrimination across the continent in a concerted effort to make discrimination a thing of the past.
FIFA.com spoke to Powar about the Action Week and the changing face of football regarding the fight against discrimination.
FIFA.com: The FARE Network's Action weeks are not just about players wearing armbands on UEFA Champions League nights. What’s the idea behind them – and what’s been going on this time?
Piara Powar: We bring the football family together from the elite part of the game, national leagues and schools, as well local authorities and youth associations. It’s at this grassroots level where the majority of our activities take place. Some of them are on a very small scale, but some of them are fairly big and involve large numbers of people. We sent a call to action out, inform people of the dates and offer some small grants. We want to help provide a large base of activities in communities.
Which events have stood out for you personally?
There’s a group from Georgia called Droni who are going to bring together young people from an IDP (internally displaced people’s settlement) to the local stadium for music, football and art. The young people will create a banner which will be displayed in their settlement, so it’s things like that which engage young people with football in a way which they wouldn’t normally.
FARE was established in 1999. Since then – what are the biggest strides do you think have been made in the fight against discrimination?
I think there is far more awareness of the issues that football faces. Social problems are mirrored inside football. If you think about it, there are very few events where you have 50 or 60,000 people coming together on a regular basis, so the problems which exist in society can be reflected. Consequently, there is far more awareness of the stewarding and policing measures that we can take, as well as educational measures. Football can be used as an educational tool. It is the world’s biggest sport and it can unite people across racial and ethnic divides.
Conversely, what are the biggest challenges to be faced over the next few years?
There are two, really. There is a global economic crisis at present and many people are suffering. Unfortunately there is a tendency when economic difficulties come about to blame outsiders. That brings about dangers and in football we need to try to prevent that coming into football spaces. Secondly, there are challenges as to where our international tournaments are now going. Taking the game to new territories can lead to problems – and we have to address them. We need to make sure that football is as inclusive as it possibly can be. In that regard, there’s been a great move by FIFA to have a female member appointed to the Executive Committee. That has sent out a very strong message.
FIFA and FARE have collaborated since 2006 – in what ways do you think both organisations have assisted each other?
The most obvious way is through the symbolic messages that FIFA have sent out at tournaments. I was at South Africa for the Fair Play Days and the announcements got a wonderful reception inside the stadiums. It sent out a message to the wider world that FIFA as the global governing body wants to tackle discrimination of all kinds. FARE are in constant contact with FIFA’s Corporate Social Responsibility department. We share ideas – and that learning is wonderful for both parties.
What can the readers of this article do to help the fight against discrimination?
We do offer opportunities to get involved. The most obvious is through the Action Weeks – and I would hope that FIFA.com readers can take part next year. We are always looking to form partnerships with groups at a national level. The name for the game for us is collaboration. We always welcome new additions. People can also follow us on twitter @farenet for information and news; they can Like our Facebook page too. In an age of Social Media, those things are important, because it keeps people in touch and allows us to see the strength of the movement which we have.