Krisztina Göntér, President of the Governing Board of the EPAS
13 May 2009
1. What are the priority issues of your organisation?
The EPAS, the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport is a new organisation which has a double linkage: on the one hand it works in the framework of the Council of Europe, on the basis of the core values of this organisation and on the other hand it is an organisation which has a desire to tackle sport issues.
Ethics, racism, respect for diversity are topics where the priorities of these two fields meet each other. The ministers responsible for Sport of the member states of the Council of Europe held a conference in December 2008 in Athens, where they adopted a Resolution on Ethics in Sport. One of the key topics of our activity has been anti-discrimination, diversity and antiracism.
2. How do you assess the level of racism and discrimination in European sport?
Sport is not the only field where racism exists. Sport may be one the most visible areas but no one must think that sport is where violence comes from. It comes from the society and in the future, it will result even more strongly from the political and economical crisis. I think that racism and xenophobia constitute phenomena, which strike grievously at our societies, and unfortunately, with the crisis we must not have the illusion that this would improve. At the same time, I must stress that sport organisations are quite active in combating racism and discrimination.
3. In your view, how can governments best fight discrimination in sport?
Governments certainly have their responsibilities to a certain extent. First of all it is up to the governments to pass legislation which defines the sanctions against any racist behaviour in all walks of life, including sport events.
Governments can also finance their own campaigns aimed at calling the attention of civil servants, members of the police, the local authorities, etc. Governments can also support financially anti-racist programmes implemented by NGOs, and it is again up to governments to include anti-racist education in the curriculum of public schools.
Either central or local governments could finance neighbourhood sport programmes aimed at gathering children from different backgrounds instead of allowing them to hang around in what we call ''quartiers difficiles'' (difficult neighbourhoods), where violence and racism are part of everyday reality.
What governments cannot do is the fieldwork, as sport is happening in federations and clubs. I have a high opinion of sport NGOs because they do feel responsible and they do act. Federations have internal rules forbidding and sanctioning racist manifestations. Many federations and clubs are seeking ways of how to cooperate with fan clubs, including ultras.
Who else has a part to play in this field? I would like to mention the importance of the well-known athletes who can become role models: their words or behaviour might have a bigger impact on young people than any noisy campaign.
The media's role cannot be denied, and let us not forget the sponsors either. A sponsor can have an impact by choosing carefully the athlete or the team to support financially. An example: Nike sponsored the 'Stand Up Speak Up' campaign in 2004.
4. In your view, what specific measures still need to be taken at the European level to combat racism and discrimination in sport?
A European message may produce an impact, which can be stronger than those sent by federations or national governments. Moreover, I think that one of the specific missions of this new organisation, the EPAS, must be the cooperation between European governments and the NGO sector.
In the EPAS, we have two sport organisations as special partners, ENGSO (European Non-Governmental Sport Organisation)and UEFA. Some first steps have been taken in order to start a wider GO-NGO cooperation with a number of other organisations, but still much has to be done. This is going to be a new path in the combat against racism and discrimination in sport in Europe and all of us hope that it will help to achieve some new progress.
5. How have sports organisations responded to the challenges posed by racism and discrimination in European sport?
I am quite optimistic. In sport, athletes as well as leaders and sport-loving people are well aware of the risks represented by racism, which is really a bloody poison for sport. They are also determined to struggle against it. Some sports are more hit by this phenomenon than others. Football is by far the most popular sport, and very much exposed to racist manifestations but if you go the UEFA website - you can see how engaged they are in the combat against racism, giving the example to other sports and sport organisations.
I can tell you about other initiatives, too. FARE (Football against Racism in Europe) is a network of a large variety of organisations involved in football and engaged against racism. Or just think of the 'Stand Up Speak Up' campaign launched in January 2005 by the French football player Thierry Henry, or, to take an example from outside football, last year the FIA ( Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) announced the Everyrace antiracism campaign.
6. What role can the media play in promoting diversity in European sport?
The media is a little bit like sport itself, in the sense that is not the source and cause of violence and racism, but it reflects what is happening in society. However, the way the media reports on misbehaviour can certainly be awareness-raising. I think it is important that a journalist, when informing about misbehaviour, should also signal condemnation.
7. What challenges and obstacles lie ahead in the fight against racism and discrimination in European sport?
Sport will keep being poisoned by racist and violent behaviour whilst these repugnant phenomena exist in society itself. What sport can do is to raise awareness and treat these negative phenomena within its own world, with its own possibilities. I think sport is not doing bad at all. We should keep on combating and I hope that from now on, thanks to the cooperation between the governments and the sport federations in the EPAS, new promising solutions will be found to make things better on sport fields and in sport clubs.
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