Autore Topic: EXCLUSIVE Interview with Piara Powar, Executive Director of FARE Network  (Letto 6663 volte)

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On the occasion of the FARE Network Action Weeks (15-29 October) Biancocelesti has released an exclusive interview with Piara Powar, Executive Director of FARE Network (Football Against Racism in Europe)

Biancocelesti: Good morning Mr. Powar. represents the majority of Lazio supporters that do not want to put up with the bad reputation and image that Lazio fans unfortunately have abroad. This is why we are, since a few months ago, proud members of the FARE network.
These days FARE is becoming increasingly popular in Italy and it has appeared in the News that FARE is sending observers to UEFA matches (but not to domestic matches, like Serie A) to report about possible racial abuses on the stands.
Many questions have been raised regarding the role of FARE and its connection to UEFA and we would like to help people to clarify their doubts.

Biancocelesti:  Mr. Powar, can you please introduce yourself in a few words?

Powar: Yes, I am the Executive Director of the FARE network, we are territorially based in London and we now have 125 members in 33 countries and we have activities in over 40 countries and at the moment we are looking forward to our grassroots action weeks which start for two weeks from next Tuesday 15th October, so this is a quite a busy and interesting time.

Biancocelesti: What are the FARE objectives?
Powar: FARE is a membership organisation and objectives focus on antidiscrimination in football, making sure that we can address issues of racial discrimination but also using football to addressing wider societal levels of discrimination based on homophobia and issues of that kind. And then we also have a focus that is social inclusion which is to develop the lives and involvement of the minorities through the playing of football.

Biancocelesti:  How is Italy considered in terms of racism/discrimination related problems in football?
Powar: The debate in Italy at the moment is going through what you may say an interesting period and also a very serious period because I know that, of course, the debate is going on about the sanctions against Milan with the original charges by the Italian FA and I will be following all the developments around that.

Biancocelesti: Do you think it constitutes a bigger problem than in other countries or the problem is spread equally around Europe?
Powar: I think that every country has different kind of problems. Now I live in London although I travel a lot and I see that the problems are slightly different but still problems. Yesterday I was in Croatia and I have seen that the problem there was different but still a big problem. In my understanding of what is going on in Italy, regarding to issues related to discrimination and racism I canít but look at the recent history of the country and even look at the way which governments have not sought to have a good debate about the diversity in Italy...because if I go now to Italy three or four times a year to cities now which have changed very much in terms of the migrants that they have and now there are African migrants along with some from India and Pakistan, from Syria. With these sort of issues, communities can take people in, but there needs to be a debate about a new perspective, looking at issues like multiculturalism, integration.
The situation outside the stadium is often important, and I also know that inside many of the Italian stadiums , many of them are run by municipalities, many of them donít have many facilities, many donít treat fans well , and of course thereís also the wider picture to look at.

Biancocelesti:  letís speak a bit about Lazio Mr. Powar. Lazio is one of the oldest multisport clubs in Europe with specialties ranging from running, swimming to parachuting. It was founded in 1900 by a group of young men that took the inspiration from the ancient Greek Olympic Games and the social colours are indeed the White and the Light Blue like the ones of the Greek flag.  So, nothing of its origins can really be associated with racism and fascism.
Last year Lazio twice wore a shirt with a NO RACISM banner in official matches and the speaker at the stadiums always warned the attendees about the consequences of racist behaviour. The club as many in Italy (like AC Milan, Inter, Roma and Juventus) is often hostage of the few hundred people that carry on with the abuse in spite of the club good will.
Stadiums are also equipped with CCTVs which allow monitoring all the stands. In the light of all this, which are other practical measures which a football club like Lazio should take to seriously fight racist behaviour? Is it fair to close a stadium of tens of thousands of mostly well-behaved fans for a few hundred ill-mannered people?
Powar: I think the problem is that Lazio at the moment have a reputation across Europe of being a club in the recent past, the last 10-15 years, that has been associated to the right and people sayÖ

Biancocelesti: To be honest, Mr. Powar, you need to know that no right wing flags have been exposed for at least ten years in the stadium.
Powar: I donít want to make anybody defensive. Itís just the way some people in Europe see Lazio.

Biancocelesti: Of course Mr. Powar, just to be objective.
Powar: There have been precedents, like Di Canio and so on. Now I think that history still seems to carry on regardless in peopleís minds, something that is connected to the club whether it is in fact a correct or incorrect assumption. Now, youíre correct, you donít have right wing banners at the club; so I think this is one of those unfortunate things, itís actually an extra problem that Lazio fans probably have to overcome as the club is seen in this way. I donít think that everybody who goes to the Stadio Olimpico when Lazio plays are right wing or agree or believe in that respect. Thatís part of the problem but also I think the issues of last season...For example, there were some fans, of course this is not novel, who came to London, to Tottenham Hotspur and showed some act of anti-Semitism (Palestina flag ?ndr ) or the famous attack in Campo deí Fiori which was almost fatal, where Tottenham Hotspur fans were attacked and I know about the debate of the small groupÖ

Biancocelesti: Well, sorry to interrupt, but if you refer to the episode in Rome, media at the beginning associated it to Lazio fans but actually they were not Lazio fans but there were actually far right wing groups.
Powar: I know quite a lot about this situation in Rome. Then there were 2 other instances in the European competition where they received many warnings and now this situation led to this ban and I should say that this ban is not a ban from FARE network. We do not have the power to do such things.

Biancocelesti: This lead to the other question which is what is the role of FARE with UEFA.
Powar: We have a very small scheme with UEFA where we look at some matches where we send very well trained observers. They understand football culture, the language of the country and the teams they are looking at and they will also understand the good things that are going on. So nothing is taken in isolation.

Biancocelesti: So how the observers are recruited then?
Powar: We select our observers via external applications and we make sure that they possess a football culture, the necessary language skills, objectivity and technical knowledge. They also are required to understand different racist allusions. We are now a pool of 50 people and they are all trained by us. It is not a person from Manchester or from Helsinki that goes to observe is someone who knows the culture. And In fact in this game we were more worried about Legia Warsaw because this year they had a very big roleÖ

Biancocelesti: Yes, but the media spoke only about Lazio fans...
Powar: Well actually in this match they hung a banner showing an apology of the killer of Chris Hani who was alongside Nelson Mandela (Janus Jacub Waluz, a Polish immigrant to South Africa, ndr). They unfolded this banner which was also reported to UEFA. So the debate is never limited to one club, I think most fans do understand these things are looked at in objective terms. Maybe the media talk about Lazio fans, we are very clear about the way we see things and we have many good observers that understand the fans culture.

Biancocelesti: So how do you guarantee your observersí objectivity and neutrality? For example in an absurd case is it possible that an ASRoma supporter could be an observer at a Lazio match?
Powar: This is a very simplistic accusation for us to argument.

Biancocelesti: Itís not an accusation; itís just a question that will allow us to understand how things work.
Powar: I know, probably other people asked the same question. This is something that cannot be credited to us because of our reputation. If we send a Roma fan who hates Lazio to observe a Lazio fan, we already know the outcome of that and we also know that this will interferes in our credibility. Our credibility will be invalidated to the eyes of Lazio, the Italian football, the European football and ultimately to UEFA. It isnít a scenario we really want. And secondly this system is accredited by UN, the EU...itís a good strong system that is only used in certain circumstances. So I think it would be pure imagination that a Roma fan could go to watch a Lazio match and we will never do that.  And anyway any observerís report that is made comes to us at FARE and we look at the report again. And if there is a small thing to report we donít bother. If there are things that donít seem too correct we go back and ask again and again, so this is a fairly robust system.

Biancocelesti: So do you need a video or audio proof to validate your report?
Powar: Where there is an issue of banner, yes, we require a photo or if itís an issue of chanting we ask to produce a video but sometimes we donít. In the end donít forget that we are not a law enforcement organisation, we do not have links with the police or security services. We are a civil organisation and we represent the civil society in these occasions and I think that the legal process is a UEFA legal process. And this is the other thing to remember: The UEFA legal process has to be strong, otherwise it is meaningless. Otherwise you are in a condition where this can be easily challenged in the courts. So also UEFA has to be sure that there are strong legal bases to do what they do.

Biancocelesti: Which do you think should be the role of the Police then? There are CCTVs in the stadiums that can monitor people that commit racial abuse but the club cannot do anything about it because it lacks the physical strength to remove those people from the stadium. On the other side Police seem not really interested because they probably lack of funding and they have other priorities.
Powar: It depends of Policing and situation per stadium but personally I would stop the game because you have human beings in the pitch that sometimes are treated like animals. This is the first thing. Secondly, for what I can see, the police system in Italy is too repressive. What you would rather try with the education of the arrested or would you put them in jail? Would you rather say ďletís try to find a self-regulation among the fansĒ and, you know, say to the fan,Ē we donít want the ban, letís do the right thingĒ. In the end education is the way to intervene and prevent these situations.

Biancocelesti: Yes this is what we try to do, in small, with our website tooÖ
Powar: I am sure of that. And actually over the last year we were very surprised and pleased that a number of progressive Lazio fans came forward to us saying ďwe want to help, we want to do somethingĒ, like you guys...I think it is a really good thing.

Biancocelesti: In fact we are really fed up with this reputation we carry over from the past especially abroad where if we meet someone and we say that we are Lazio fans we are classified as fascist and racists. This is not true because the majority of Lazio fans are civil and good people.

Last question Mr. Powar: we would like to know how the abuses are reported to the National Football Association or UEFA and FIFA in international matches and if UEFA is taking steps to verify your reports.

Powar: What UEFA does is looking at the reports. The UEFA system looks at how strong the report is. The report, for example, in this case, was definitely not strong enough to justify a stadium ban. Lazio was banned for having accumulated negative episodes over the last season. UEFA has got its security people and the match delegate. The match delegate is the only official UEFA person for the match. In the past we have seen match delegates who watched monkey chanting and they shrug their shoulders. And we think these are not the most suitable people to understand about racism in the stadiums. From another point of view we let them know, we must tell them that we reported something. So obviously they would know and they can go to talk to the club and they can talk to the federations ...but itís not really something that we would trust only the UEFA delegates to report,  and often they are people in their 50s or even older who are not so interested in these issues. I think there is another part which is about the National Federation...what has happened in the Italian federation, this ďregional discriminationĒ is something new to us that should be discussed internally because they only know the habits of the Country and also they should be taking advice from football fans organisations. It should be an internal debate.

Biancocelesti: Maybe many of these UEFA new regulations should have been introduced a bit more gradually because sometimes fans donít even realise now what has happened when they see their stadium banned.
Powar: Yes, but you need to understand that itís not something related to the last match but it goes over the last season. There has been definitely a sequence of fines and warnings before arriving to this last ban.

Biancocelesti: Thank you Mr. Powar for your availability. Do you want to tell something to the users and in general to Lazio fans?
Powar: Thanks to you for your interest. I hope that there will be a good debate with also progressive voices which could lead to a sort of self-regulation and could improve the situation in future. Good luck with it!

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