The seventh anti-racism action week organised by Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) and featuring events across the continent from 17 to 30 October has proved another roaring success.
The campaign, which seeks to eliminate racism and intolerance from the game, consisted of more than 1,000 individual events in 37 different European countries. A key component was raising public awareness for the problem areas of discrimination and racism.
The annual FARE anti-racism weeks have rated as one of the most important anti-racism initiatives in European football since their inception in 2000-2001. This year, the campaign once again drew support from fans, players, clubs, associations, minority organisations, anti-discrimination groups, youth centres, schools and the world of sports medicine.
The programme opened with an event featuring the teams contesting the third matchday in the UEFA Champions League group stage. . Public address announcements called on followers of the game to stand up against all forms of discrimination and advertisements highlighting the event were inserted in match programmes.
"We greatly value this opportunity to make a comprehensive contribution to eliminating racism from our sport," declared UEFA President Lennart Johansson. "We won't beat racism in a single week, but I hope these activities persuade more members of the football family to take up the struggle against racism."
Meanwhile, Piara Powar, director of British-based FARE partner 'Kick It Out' had this to say: "The FARE Action Week sends out a message we can all enthusiastically support, as it brings together every member of the football family, from fan groups, migrants and ethnic minorities right through to the biggest clubs. We want to see a game which promotes integration and is free from discrimination."
Red card for racism
The German game played an active role in the FARE Action Week with a range of events aimed at defeating racism and discrimination.
Two weekends ago, a total of 750,000 red cards were distributed at matches played in the first and second divisions and both regionalised third divisions. Before kick-off, spectators joined the players in holding up the cards, each bearing the slogan 'Show racism the red card', to demonstrate solidarity against intolerance.
The Escort Kids accompanying the players onto the pitch wore T-shirts bearing the slogan 'The ball doesn't care who kicks it'. Speaking on the subject, German Football Association (DFB) President Dr Theo Zwanziger said: "Everyone needs to recognise the effect of racism in German stadiums. The decisive factor is raising awareness." League Association President Werner Hackmann echoed the sentiment, saying: "We want to send out a signal: racism and discrimination will not be tolerated here."
A new record total of 14 European leagues dedicated a matchday to the fight against racism. The Austrian Bundesliga organised events involving all 22 clubs, including the production of a special anti-racism TV commercial, while the team captains read out a declaration against racism ahead of the team line-up announcements. The match officials wore Fair Play messages on their shirts.
"Over the years, the FARE Action Week has grown into the world's biggest campaign against racism in sport," declared Heidi Thaler of the FARE European co-ordination centre in Vienna. "Obviously, you won't get rid of discrimination in a single week, but the Action Week helps build important partnerships and momentum for further activities during the season," she added.
Events span Europe's leading leagues
In the Netherlands, PSV Eindhoven hosted an anti-racism day at their home fixture against Sparta Rotterdam. Captain Phillip Cocu read out a message to the fans, and the players of both teams lined up for a joint photograph behind a banner against racism.
A fan club from Swiss outfit Young Boys Bern unveiled a 50-metre placard ahead of their home match against FC Zurich, while an anti-racism commercial played on the stadium video wall.
"The fundamental idea behind the week involves handing groups from all over Europe the opportunity to tackle problems of racism and discrimination," according to a FARE statement. Activities in England included crowd solidarity events at the games between Arsenal and Everton, and Sheffield United's meeting with Chelsea.
In Belgium, some 80,000 posters were distributed to fans, while clubs were encouraged to sign a charter against racism. In Portugal, stars including Eusebio, Fernando Gomes and Vítor Baia acted as ambassadors for anti-racism events in stadiums. In Hungary, all the top-flight clubs took part in a campaign which saw the players wearing anti-racist T-shirts during the warm-up, with stadium announcers giving notice of the FARE Action Week.