Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this leadership dialogue.
The Council of Europe has a firm and unrelenting commitment to fight racism and hate speech.
The European Convention on Human Rights is the cornerstone of the human rights protection in Europe.
And for more than seventy years, this treaty has made discrimination, in the enjoyment of the rights it guarantees, illegal in all of Europe.
Today, this totals 47 European countries altogether.
In addition – and over time - the Council of Europe has developed specific instruments to help combat racism and hate speech in our societies, including concrete initiatives to help governments and various other organisations and partners.
These include a number of Recommendations to our member States by the Council of Europe’s main decision-making institution – the Committee of Ministers – and here Madam Minister, I would like to thank the Government of France for its very active and constructive participation.
But I also want to highlight the work by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), whose President will participate in today’s dialogue.
ECRI has, in fact, issued several specific recommendations, including one General Policy Recommendation on combating racism and racial discrimination in the field of sport.
In addition, this February the 16th Conference of Ministers responsible for Sport adopted a Resolution on Human Rights in Sport, in which the fight against discrimination and hate speech was included among the priorities for future work.
And of course, the Saint Denis Convention itself, which entered into force in 2017, sets out what is required for a truly integrated safety, security and service approach at football matches and other sports events.
This Convention speaks directly about the need for clear policies and procedures to address “any racist and other discriminatory behaviour” which, it rightly notes, pose a threat to “crowd management…safety and security”.
But I think that everyone here today knows that these well-intentioned treaties and written commitments – these legal obligations – are not always fully adhered to or fully implemented.
The Council of Europe’s Standing Committee of the European Convention on Spectator Violence has therefore worked hard to give an honest opinion on the sad extent to which racism and hate speech have been able to spread to sports events.
And the report produced on the basis of the Committee’s discussions just two years ago, clearly points out what everyone here knows to be true: That hate – based on race, religion, sexuality, gender, and other factors – remains a stubborn, unwelcome and unacceptable fact of life at far too many sports events.
It still finds its ugly voice on the terraces and in the grandstands – manifesting itself in derogatory words, chants and insults - that cause only suffering and harm, and which should truly offend any person that genuinely love sports.
But the report also gives cause for some optimism.
Because it brings together a vivid collection of policies and practices that different countries and organisations have put in place, and that have made a positive impact.
These include joint efforts to ensure that sports events are open, equal, and welcoming to everyone – and I mean to every participant, and every spectator, without exception.
The commitment to pursue that goal is included in the Policy Strategy that the Saint-Denis Committee will examine - and hopefully adopt - this week.
This will be a strong signal of our determination to help translate important words into tangible action, and I have no doubt that it will benefit from the insights that you will share during today’s dialogue.
Let me end by saying this.
We very much appreciate the on-going co-operation we have with both UEFA and FIFA, and the basis for this co-operation is the agreements/MOUs we have concluded with both organisations.
So, it’s great to see the participation of Mr Michele Uva and Mr Clarence Seedorf at this conference today.
At the same time, we are eager to build on those relationships - and forge new ones.
The participants in this leadership dialogue are testament to that.
Yes, we need governmental action. But we also need sports organisations to provide leadership too.
Each of you has practical experience, valuable insights, and an understanding of what we should focus upon and do together.
So, today is a unique opportunity for you to consider what the next steps should be.
Because change is needed.
And it is only by working together that we will find effective solutions.
So, thank you for taking part in this exchange.
I hope that it proves to be an important milestone on our journey towards sports events that are completely free from any form of racism and hate speech.
Thank you for your attention.