In his keynote speech to delegates at the UEFA Respect Diversity Conference in Rome, UEFA President Michel Platini emphasised the role that football has to play in setting an educational example for society in terms of diversity and balancing education with punishments for those who transgress.
Mr Platini also discussed the long-term RESPECT campaign as a focal point of his address to the conference, organised jointly by UEFA, the FARE network and the players' union FIFPro, and hosted by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).
"Football is an extraordinary example of social mixing and diversity of all kinds," he told the delegates in Rome. "From the most insignificant kickabout in the suburbs to the bright lights of a UEFA Champions League final, diversity, as a reflection of globalisation, is overtly displayed together with all the challenges it poses and all the opportunities it offers.
"This is a gentle way of saying something that might be better expressed more bluntly: gone are the days of football in Europe being a sport for middle-aged chauvinists, and thank God those days will never return.
"Football is extremely popular; it excites the passions of hundreds of millions of young people, it fills their dreams and frequently their aspirations too. Of course, this extraordinary popularity also brings with it responsibilities that extend far beyond the realms of sport. The very fact that it has such a huge public following means that football has a duty to convey values that can help make society more tolerant of diversity. It has to set an example.
"Those who govern our sport must protect the players from all forms of discrimination in what is, in effect, their workplace. They do so simply because these players, as humans, are entitled to respect. 'RESPECT' is the name of the campaign that I launched six years ago to tackle the evils that often afflict our sport. At the heart of our preoccupation is, of course, discrimination."
More than 200 delegates representing UEFA member associations, leagues, clubs, political and governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and minority groups have joined relevant experts and media representatives in the Italian capital for the two-day event. The conference includes an assessment of good practice, workshops and a players' panel.
"Football welcomes, includes and integrates," concluded Mr Platini. "It does not discriminate against anyone or persecute anyone. It is a driver of progress in society. That is what I believe and what I stand for."
©UEFA.com 1998-2015. All rights reserved.