A former English professional footballer who has become a high-profile journalist and anti-racism campaigner believes Wednesday's uniteagainstracism conference in Barcelona could be a crucial milestone in the fight to eliminate the evils of intolerance and discrimination from football.
Garth Crooks, who scored more than 200 goals during his career with Stoke City FC, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Manchester United FC, West Bromwich Albion FC and Charlton Athletic FC, is now an adviser to the UK Commission for Racial Equality, as well as a television and radio journalist and presenter.
Camp Nou conference
The conference at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona is being organised by UEFA in co-operation with the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network and the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) in conjunction with FC Barcelona.
Around 250 people, including star players, football personalities, senior Spanish and European representatives of political institutions and delegates from UEFA's 52 associations, are being invited to the event, which follows on from a groundbreaking conference held at Chelsea FC's Stamford Bridge home in spring 2003.
"I think the conference in Barcelona could be a seminal moment for football associations right across Europe," Crooks told uefa.com. "We are having a debate to look at what improvements have been made over the past three years. There have been some very positive developments in Europe, but also some rather disturbing developments."
Crooks has also been following UEFA's tireless campaign to free football of racism with great interest. "I have been involved in high-level discussions with UEFA, who I think have a strong grasp of the issues," he said.
European football's governing body has punished several clubs in recent times for the racist conduct of their supporters. Nevertheless, does Crooks think that football authorities such as UEFA could impose even more severe sanctions for racist behaviour and incidents on and off the field? "The problem UEFA has, I think, is that while they may want to take stronger action, they also have to pay attention to certain legal issues in each country. I think the European political authorities will be lobbied in Barcelona to provide more clarity as to what can be done. Once there is clarity, UEFA may have far more power to act."
Ready to help
While some national associations are far down the line in developing anti-racist campaigns, others are still starting out on a painful road, simply because of their social history. Should different sanctions be applied to such countries? "I don't think football can divorce itself from society [in any country]," the 47-year-old explained. "However, any national association that signs up to the rules and regulations of the international football community has to be bound to, and accountable to, these rules. We have to be ready to help wherever we can."
Football and society
The debate in Barcelona will also focus on how football can assist in helping society as a whole rid itself of racism and intolerance. Crooks subscribes totally to the theory that the game has a vital role to play. "Football can be used as a platform to address racial issues. How you do this can often be tricky, because Europe is made up of very distinct countries. I think it is up to each national association to decide how they can use football to send out a positive message on the issues we have to face."
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