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The campaign to eliminate racism, discrimination and intolerance from football strides into the spotlight this week as European football unites to say No to Racism.
UEFA is providing its high-profile club competition platform to give full support to its partner, the FARE network and its Action Weeks against racism. Millions of fans in stadiums across Europe, in front of their television screens and online will witness the anti-racism message which will accompany all UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League group stage matches from Tuesday to Thursday.
The annual FARE Action Weeks activities aim to increase public awareness of intolerance and discrimination in football, and develop ideas and strategies on how to combat them. Lionel Messi, Johan Cruyff and Franck Ribéry are some of the stellar names lending their backing to the latest stage in the campaign.
At UEFA's club competition matches, team captains will wear No to Racism armbands; anti-racism messages will be played over clubs' public address systems; and a video containing player testimonials supporting the initiative will be shown in each stadium. A No to Racism pennant will also be passed between the players in the pre-match lineups. In addition, at the start of every game this season, No to Racism banners are being prominently displayed on the pitch.
Last May at the UEFA Congress in London, UEFA and its member national associations issued a resolution stepping up the fight against racism. UEFA's General Secretary Gianni Infantino welcomes this show of European football unity. "We are all united, all 54 UEFA member associations," he told UEFA.com. "We are all united in this fight. There was a unanimous decision at the Congress, nobody was against, everyone has encouraged, everyone has applauded us, and everyone is now implementing the same or similar measures.
"We have already seen in certain countries ... where incidents have happened that the national associations have taken a very strong stance as UEFA is doing against racism."
Mr Infantino emphasises UEFA's zero tolerance stance against racist and discriminatory conduct of any kind. This tough attitude is underpinned by new stipulations in the UEFA disciplinary regulations, through which the penalties for racism, discrimination and intolerance have been significantly increased.
"We all felt it was important to send out a clear message – a clear message of enough is enough, of zero tolerance against racism, of say no to racism," the UEFA General Secretary explained. "With this in mind, the UEFA Congress decided to step up and set new benchmarks. In this respect, the disciplinary regulations of UEFA have been amended – and as of this season, any player or official who is guilty of racist abuse will be banned for at least ten matches, or a corresponding period of time.
"If supporters of a club or national team are guilty of racist abuse, the first sanction will no longer be, as in the past, a fine ... it will immediately be a partial closure of the stadium, and in the case of a subsequent event of racism, the entire stadium will be closed and a financial penalty will be given to this club. Of course, any person guilty of racism should also be banned from entering the stadium in future."
This week will indicate just how committed football is to getting rid of the racists – and Gianni Infantino is pleased to see so many high-profile figures joining UEFA, FARE and the European football community in assisting the campaign.
"From the start of our fight against racism, it was impressive how many stars, how many players, how many officials have encouraged us, have actively participated," he said. "We will see many of them in [TV] spots throughout the season, and everyone can see who these personalities are, who are helping us in saying no to racism. This is very important in terms of awareness." Indeed, the matchday three activities will offer concrete proof that racism has absolutely no place in football.
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