Our peace-through-football initiative should be adopted by football’s governing bodies to tackle the kind of “appalling” racism witnessed in the Bulgaria-England UEFA EURO qualifier.
That’s the view of Dr Gary Stidder, Principal Lecturer and Co-Founder and Deputy Director of Football 4 Peace.
He said: “In the wake of the appalling scenes in Sofia and the racist behaviour of home fans towards English footballers there is no better time to address coach, supporter and teacher education through values-based programmes.
“If the English Football Association and UEFA are serious about radical reforms to addressing racism in football then then the emphasis has to be on education through programmes such as Football 4 Peace International.
“Unless anyone can persuade me otherwise, I remain convinced that changes to coach, teacher, player, supporter and grass roots education is the way forward and the most likely solution to combating racist behaviour in football.
“I realise that changes will take time and this will require the hard drives of the most extreme supporters to be wiped, with new data inputted and stored until the inconceivable becomes the achievable.
“Nonetheless, there is a groundswell amongst sports fans and those involved in sport governance that something has to happen. If this does not happen, either they are not listening or they are simply ignoring what the research is telling us.”
The Football 4 Peace International (F4PI) programme featured on South Korean radio just days before an historic World Cup qualifying football match between the South and North Korea on October 14.
The interviewee was Graham Spacey, former projects officer for F4PI, who last year led a workshop in South Korea to promote the programme.
The broadcast was prompted by the South’s football team playing in the Pyongyang Kim Il Sung Stadium, the first time they have played in the North’s capital since 1990. The match ended 0-0 and was billed by the BBC as the ‘world’s strangest derby’.
Graham told how F4PI originally helped bring Jewish and Arab communities together in Israel “but it doesn’t actually solve things” so, in this case, a values-based curriculum was designed and a methodology developed to coach people to teach children how to interact and to learn trust.
He said sport was a piece of a “jigsaw puzzle” alongside justice, economics, “different aspects that need to come into alignment” before peace can be achieved. Children from opposing communities in Israel would not drink from the same water tap in the beginning but by the end of matches they would happily do so and would hug each other, like footballers do anywhere.
Projects supported by F4P are now running in South Korea but they are not bringing the two sides together although North defectors have joined in: “The idea is to train people in the methodology.”
The World Cup qualifier, he said, mattered to an extent but the event involved elite athletes and had little impact for ordinary people: “I’m not a great believer in those instances but they create a mood and get politicians thinking about what could happen.”