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Respect Diversity conference under way in Rome

Over 200 delegates congregated in Rome for the start of the UEFA Respect Diversity conference, a two-day event on the future direction of eliminating discrimination from the game.

Former Italian athlete Fiona May (left) and MEP Cécile Kyenge at the event in Rome
Former Italian athlete Fiona May (left) and MEP Cécile Kyenge at the event in Rome ©Getty Images

Hearing examples of good practice in anti-discrimination matters, over 200 delegates gathered for the UEFA Respect Diversity conference in Rome agreed on the need for maintaining momentum for education, using football as a vehicle for change.

After a keynote speech from the UEFA President, Michel Platini, opened the two-day event, delegates present at a panel discussion on football and equality included Cécile Kyenge and Emine Bozkurt – members of the European Parliament – Jamaican-born British lawyer and businesswoman Heather Rabbatts and UEFA Executive Committee member Karen Espelund.

"Diversity is the driving force for the development of all organisations," said Espelund. "Whether it is as a club, a league or an association, we really need different cultures to make progress and to make sure everyone has the chance to participate. So among the challenges now is to get to the actions that develop these points: to make sure that we keep getting girls involved in football and that the talented boy doesn't leave football when he finds out that he has a different sexual orientation because of the threat of discrimination."

Attendees representing all areas of the football family, political and governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations and minority groups, were then energised by examples of good practice. Johan van Geijn of the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) told of 'Football for Everyone' – the campaign for the acceptance of homosexuality in the country.

That was followed by Juventus president Andrea Agnelli's presentation of the club's multi-faceted respect campaign, focusing on education and the 'play with me' scheme, which ensures that people from all backgrounds can participate in football. Raluca Negulescu (executive director of the Policy Centre for Roma and Minorities) then gave a passionate address on the need for the Roma community to be empowered through participation in football.

"It's very interesting for this conference to have gone into some very difficult issues in the depth that we have," said Piara Powar of the FARE network, among the leading participants in Rome. "We've discussed the matter of women in football and ethnic minorities in leadership positions, and we're talking about them in a way that I've never really come across in a football environment in terms of the level of debate and the level of commitment. The [UEFA] President started that off with his speech and sparked an interesting discussion that for the rest of us will be changing the landscape of football over the next two years."

Delegates were also given cross-sporting motivation when British-born Italian athlete Fiona May took to the stage to share her experiences in sport and her association with the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) on promoting diversity.

The conference concludes on Thursday, with a panel of players being assembled to share their experiences and opinions on the future direction of eliminating discrimination from the game. Workshops will also discuss a range of topics including southern Europe, the action plans of national associations and the promotion of diversity, the fight against homophobia, ethnic minorities in football and the balance of education against sanctions in the sporting environment.