Football Against Racism in Europe's (FARE) Action Week concluded on Tuesday with co-ordinater Michael Fanizadeh declaring it a "massive success". Thirty-five countries took part in over 800 activities ranging from anti-racism events at UEFA Champions League games to activities at youth centres and schools across the continent, all focused on raising awareness of an issue that continues to scar the game. "A big part of football has been involved in Action Week and that's really a massive success," Fanizadeh told uefa.com, adding that there is still much to be done.
uefa.com: This is FARE's sixth Action Week. How do you feel attitudes towards racism within the game have changed over the past six years?
Michael Fanizadeh: When we started we had eight countries and 30 or 40 activities. In almost all the countries the official line was: "We have no problem." Now that attitude has changed. That I think is the major success. That football clubs or fan groups or ethnic minorities take this problem seriously, also UEFA, is a big success for FARE and Action Week. It has changed in the countries where we have been active for the past six years such as Austria, and the UK where the league is really involved. There you can see a change but I think in the countries where we are really starting you can't say it has changed everything, but it can't happen that fast.
uefa.com: Where did FARE make most progress this week?
Fanizadeh: We had some outreach countries such as Spain, where there were massive problems last season. We have taken a big step forwards there. We had 12 ultra fan groups taking part in Spain, which if you compare it to the past is a big step forward. But it’s just the starting point for us. We want to have a bigger campaign in Spain, not only in Action Week but throughout the whole year, but we found it quite encouraging. The second area where we consider FARE weak and the problems massive is Eastern Europe. For instance, in Slovakia they focused on the problem of the Roma community. It doesn't mean the problem is solved … but they have recognised it, so our Slovak partners have the chance in the future to present projects to overcome this problem of Roma separation.
uefa.com: How can FARE keep the anti-racism message in the public consciousness for more than just this one week?
Fanizadeh: We see it as an awareness raising project. What we want to see is Action Week followed up by activities in education, in schools. If these projects are successful then Action Week is only a part. We need Action Week in countries like Serbia [and Montenegro], for example, to show that it’s not only a national issue, but a European issue, that they are part of a European movement. They want to be part of a positive image and that’s why I think that Action Week is so important because people see they are part of a positive thing, it is not only negative. Now the follow-up campaigns begin, which would not happen without the involvement of grassroots organisations during Action Week.
uefa.com: Do you approach the problems facing each country in different ways?
Fanizadeh: We are on a different level in different countries. In countries like [F.Y.R.] Macedonia for instance we start really with grassroots activities run by youth centres, cultural organisations not so close to football. Compare this to somewhere like the UK where the clubs will run activities by themselves. In Spain, for instance, we see the problem really as a fan problem so we decided we must start campaigning with fans. In France we have better contacts so we can work with clubs and fans. It's always different in every country and that's one of the successes of the network, that we accept that our partners have different approaches and different ways of dealing with the problem.
uefa.com: Recent problems at AC Sparta Praha highlight that even in Europe’s top competition racism is far from being eradicated. Does that depress you or make you fight harder?
Fanizadeh: I think it's very encouraging that UEFA takes the problem so seriously that in the most important club event like the UEFA Champions League they will say: "No we don’t accept this, we don't accept Sparta fans being racist." We see this as really encouraging our work. The problems are in the game, they are here, but we think it is really encouraging that the governing bodies now take it so seriously that they won’t accept it.
uefa.com: What will FARE turn its attention to now?
Fanizadeh: The next big step is UEFA's anti-racism conference in Barcelona [in February], but we have a very ambitious future and the Barcelona conference is only a part of it.
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