UEFA and the European football family joined forces last week to convey the firm message that racism, discrimination and intolerance have no place in football – with top European players also uniting to show their unequivocal support for the campaign.
Matchday three in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League provided a fittingly high-profile platform for the anti-racism message, as part of the annual Action Week staged by UEFA's long-standing partner, the FARE network (taking place this year between 16 and 31 October).
"It's for us to be role models," said Celtic FC goalkeeper Fraser Forster. "There are millions of people watching football worldwide, and it's important that we get that point across as a team, and as footballers all across the globe."
No matter your religion, nationality or skin colour, you all pull on the same shirt with one common goal," said Paris Saint-German FC defender Christophe Jallet. "I think we are the best example of this fight against racism."
Thousands of fans at stadiums throughout the continent and millions of television viewers watching from home were given the message loud and clear thanks to a 30-second Respect TV spot, also played on the stadiums' giant screens. Loudspeaker announcements urged supporters to join UEFA in its call to unite against racism. Teams were also accompanied onto the pitch by children wearing Unite Against Racism T-shirts, and captains were asked to wear Unite Against Racism armbands.
Away from the action, players spoke out against the negative phenomenon of racism and intolerance. "Respect is a global thing," said Manchester United FC forward Javier Hernández. "In terms of discrimination and racism, you have to focus on one specific thing, and I think that respect is the most important value of humankind, in every part of the world, regardless of country, colour, if you are male or female. The most beautiful thing is to have respect for everyone."
The stars also welcomed the proactive work undertaken by UEFA and FARE. "We have the opportunity to convey an image through football and through what sportsmen represent," said LOSC Lille defender Franck Béria. "It is very important that we get involved, that UEFA promotes such action, because we can reach many people."
There is no room for racism in sport or anywhere in the world," was the viewpoint of GNK Dinamo Zagreb's Josip Šimunić. "I am proud to be part of this campaign," explained FC Nordsjælland striker Mikkel Beckmann. "Racism should not be part of football – it should not be part of life."
"It is 2012 and there are certain things you don't want to see," added Vito Mannone, Arsenal FC goalkeeper. "We have a mix of players from all over the world, with different cultures, and we all have to work together."
UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino marked the 2012 FARE Action Week by underlining UEFA's determination to eradicate racism and its related forms. He told UEFA.com: "UEFA is committed to tackling discrimination in football and really encourages all fans, everyone in Europe and indeed around the world, to join our efforts and to value respect – respect for players, respect for officials, for the referees, for the opposite side, for all fans, for fellow supporters of all nationalities, of all ethnic backgrounds, of all sexual orientations – respect for everyone.
"What we care about in football is the colour of the shirt and not the colour of the skin," Mr Infantino went on. "
Our commitment, and our ambition, is to have no more, not even one single case, and to stamp racism and xenophobia out of football."
UEFA Europa League players gave their backing too – in particular VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach team-mates Håvard Nordtveit and Luuk de Jong. "Of course we need to show respect," said Nordtveit. "All the players on the pitch need to show that they're against racism. We need to do it as a team and show the rest of the world what we can do to combat racism."
"It means a lot to me," De Jong added. "I think it's very important that we players and UEFA give this our attention and get as many people as possible to support the fight against racism."
The final words from an important week go to Galatasaray AŞ defender Dany Nounkeu, with his articulate statement about football's capacity to help eliminate racism.
"I certainly believe football can unite people against racism and discrimination," he said. "Football is universal, something everybody understands. Maybe we can't change everybody's mind, but as footballers we can take the responsibility to fight against all sorts of discrimination. Because in the end, black or white, all these people that come out for a game in the UEFA Champions League, all come out to see a game. That is the power of football."
©UEFA.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.