Every year, during the #Football People action weeks, the Fare network and UEFA join forces to focus on the fight for equality, diversity and inclusion in European football.
From 11 until 25 October, the joint aim is to reach as many fans as possible with the message that football is for everyone, everywhere – regardless of age, gender, race or sexual orientation.
The UEFA Champions League, UEFA Women’s Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Nations League are the high-profile platforms that will promote the #Football People action weeks this year, with specific activaties taking place in the stadiums at matches in these competitions over the two-week period.
This year, to herald the start of the #FootballPeople action weeks, UEFA is launching a collection of good practices provided by its member associations – entitled “Football and Refugees- Addresing key challenges” – that show how football can have an impact in lessening difficulties that have emerged as result of the recent migrant crisis in Europe.
Football has a unique power to unite people, foster mutual understanding and break down prejudices – and its potential is seen as an important factor in helping to alleviate strains caused by the migrant crisis that has affected Europe in recent years.
The crisis has seen as many as 65 million people around the world forcibly displaced.
“While some countries are more affected than others,” the introduction states, “this forced migration has sparked a global debate spanning social, cultural, economic, political and environmental issues.”
“As the world’s most popular sport, and one that is deeply embedded in the fabric of society, football has been affected by this global crisis,” it continues, “yet also has the potential to help alleviate it.”
“Many of UEFA’s member associations have been directly impacted and have sought to improve matters in their own countries.”
UEFA and its associations are working hard to contribute to tackling the crisis, and the good practices collection emerged from a recent UEFA Study Group Scheme (SGS) seminar in Dublin, organised in conjunction with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).
In line with the SGS philosophy of bringing national football associations together to exchange information for the overall well-being of European football, the seminar’s aim was for national associations to learn from one another, as well as from other individuals and organisations, discuss the various challenges arising and share good practices about refugees and football.
As a result, “Football and Refugees – Addressing key challenges” has been compiled as a record of that seminar. Fourteen national associations have contributed to the guide, highlighting their own experiences with refugees and providing advice and recommendations for the football community at large.
The intention is to help national associations large and small across Europe, along with other bodies, to implement their own specific initiatives with a view to addressing the refugee crisis.
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin stresses that the integration process for refugees in another country can be a difficult one, but emphasises how football can be a catalyst for the successful integration of refugees.
“Many of them – refugee women, men and children – have made kicking a ball the practical symbol of new relations in a new environment among new people,” he reflects.
“The purpose of this UEFA best practice collection is to remind us of the steps and precautions we should take to make this age-old process smoother, more humane and more efficient.”
“The ‘beautiful game’ can make great use of this excellent collection to ensure that refugees, also thanks to football, will thrive in their new homes and be able to make a lasting and positive contribution to the societies they blend into.”
The managing director of the Fare network, Piara Powar, is encouraged by how football has reacted to the refugee crisis. “Despite the complicated nature of the issues we face,” he says, “it is heartening to see that football has been able to respond to many of these challenges decisively and effectively.”
“The guide is more than just a testament to necessity,” Powar adds. “It is a tribute to the sheer amount of work that has taken place by national associations, clubs, grassroots groups and government agencies. It is a body of work that we should all salute.”
“Europe has changed and football – teams, clubs, coaches, referees and supporters – will echo this change in the coming decades. We are only at the beginning.”