"UEFA is committed to making football accessible," said special adviser to the UEFA President William Gaillard at a European Parliament conference on football and social integration.
UEFA has been a partner in the staging of a conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg focusing on the issue of football and social integration in Europe, and the inclusion of Roma communities through sport.
Special adviser to the UEFA President William Gaillard joined various stakeholders, including European Parliament members Emine Bozkurt and Lívia Járóka, who is herself of a Roma background; Piara Powar, the executive director of UEFA's anti-racism partner FARE; and Roma and minorities support group representatives such as the EU Fundamental Rights Agency.
The meeting was hosted by the Sport and Citizenship European think tank which promotes sport and its role in, and influence on, society. The participants identified, through shared experiences, good practices from different European countries in terms of governance and projects, with a view to further proposals which could be put forward to European institutions.
In addition, the forum served to demonstrate the considerable function that sport, and especially football, can have as a vehicle for social change and positive development – with UEFA at the forefront of the campaign, given the European Commission's support for its anti-racism initiatives. In particular, the European Commission's sport unit emphasises that sport can offer citizens the opportunity to integrate within and join social networks – and can act as a tool to reach out to the underprivileged and help those touched by discrimination.
An estimated 10 to 12 million Roma people live in Europe, with at least half of this figure based in EU countries. The Strasbourg conference heard of the need to dedicate attention to the Roma populations in some European countries where they form a significant percentage of the workforce and thereby also make an important contribution to the economic situation. Such attention can include engaging the Roma populations in sport, particularly football which, given its social power and popularity as arguably the world's No1 sport, can be an instrument placed at the service of integrating people on the margins of society.
William Gaillard told the meeting: "UEFA is committed to making football accessible to all communities whatever their background and social position. Football is a universal language that we must continue to use for the social benefit of European society. We will continue to support initiatives that work for Roma inclusion."
Last week, UEFA President Michel Platini highlighted UEFA's fierce determination to combat racism, discrimination and intolerance in football during a speech at the United Nations in Geneva, while an exhibition, co-hosted by UEFA, has been put on at the European Parliament in Strasbourg which centres on the need to respect diversity within the game.
Next week, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League give a platform to the FARE Action Weeks campaign to eliminate discrimination from football.