CAMPAIGNER: Powar at the podium
PAN-EUROPEAN FOOTBALL’S sole anti-discrimination faces the demanding challenge of working across 41 different countries with their own cultures, laws and norms. It is a task from which Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) Network’s executive director Piara Powar is not about to shirk.
Piara, who was appointed FARE’s leader in July 2010, leaving his job as director of Kick It Out (KIO), is aware how difficult and lengthy the path is to changing mentalities over equality and race in each country his organisation works in – especially when prominent supporters’ groups exist, such as one of Russian club Zenit St Petersburg, demanding their team is to have no African players.
“It’s a long journey,” Piara tells The Voice, “you have to see it in the context of societal change. The Russia of 2012 will be very different to the Russia of 2018.”
One-size fits all does not seem to be an approach the head of FARE has adopted, Piara acknowledges both the nuanced and blatant differences apparent throughout European borders. “Russia poses some interesting dilemmas; they have a very different perspective than we do. Their idea of diversity doesn’t look anything like the UK’s or America’s. Also, they, to put it politely, have a different democratic framework to the UK, so there are challenges there,” he says.
“It’s chalk and cheese between the working there and here.”
Nonetheless, Piara’s optimistic streak and his view that footballing success trumps ethnicity makes him believe “the propensity for change is there” in places like Russia, particularly if their clubs “want to compete at the high levels of the Champions League” – something which may require players of “Brazilian or African heritage,” he adds.
The former KIO chief has naturally been closely following events concerning racism in the English game over the last 14 months. Obviously, John Terry and Luis Suarez are names mentioned by default. However, it is the FA which bears the brunt of his criticism, specifically its disciplinary panel for “inconsistency” and overstepping its judgement remit.
“There didn’t seem to be adequate reasoning for the difference in the levels of sanctions, so therefore it felt like there was an inconsistency,” he says of Suarez’s eight-match ban and £40,000 fine, and Terry’s four-game suspension and £220,000 penalty. Piara also criticises the way in which England manager Roy Hodgson publicly supported Terry – instead of keeping quiet and “abiding by the FA’s process,” like other FA employees did.
EUROVISION: Powar has a new discrimination study to release this year
“It was a big failing of the FA not to correct that and try to sweep in under the carpet. That gave rise to suspicions that the FA were treating Terry [as] England captain differently to the way they treated Luis Suarez, therefore they were failing in the principle of natural justice and consistency of punishment.”
The disciplinary panel’s decision to declare Terry not racist was “nonsense,” Piara hastens to add. “I don’t think that’s something the FA should be ruling on. Who really cares what these guys’ opinions are of whether someone is a racist or not? Their role was to judge whether a racist act had been committed.
“It was unhelpful. I think most of us who have suffered from racism and understand it would say that if someone suffers racism then that doesn’t mean the person who has been racially abusive is a racist for life or somehow evil. It can be overcome through education, life experience, and people very often change their views.”
The FA’s recent equality plan is a welcome addition to the game, Piara thinks, but “there are a lot of points in there that should have been addressed and implemented a long time ago.”
However, FARE’s chief is also concentrating on how his own organisation can help tackle the uglier side of the beautiful game. “Our big contribution will be a piece of academic research that we’ve commissioned for this year, which looks at glass ceilings in European football. The two focus areas are coaching and management, and administration,” he says.
“I’m an optimist, but I don’t believe in false hope,” and with that outlook Piara emphasises the need for him to “address the reality of the scenario” – an approach which does not allow him to call for Fifa president Sepp Blatter to resign despite his often “daft, misplaced and misguided comments” on racism.
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