No place for racial abuse on the pitch says Sari chair
2013-03-20 21:05:30 -

Phone calls from upset parents whose children have been racially abused at sports matches are an almost weekly occurrence at the Sport Against Racism Ireland (Sari) office in Dublin.

Speaking ahead of International Day Against Racism on 21 March, Sari chair Perry Ogden told Metro Éireann that phone calls relaying racist incidents had increased in recent months and usually came “from parents whose child has been racially abused during a match”.

“It’s often coming from the sidelines from other parents or from kids who are also participating in matches,” said Ogden, who added that it usually involves soccer, rugby and GAA games.

Sari is a not-for-profit organisation established in 1997 as a direct response to the growth of racist attacks from a small but vocal section of people in Ireland.

The years that immediately followed Sari’s foundation saw increased State engagement with the issue such as through the formation of official bodies like the now defunct NCCRI and the Office of the Minister for Integration, which has since diminished in status into the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration.

The situation has come almost full circle again, suggested Ogden, and a funding deficit has contributed to a “vacuum”.

As Ogden outlined to Metro Éireann, a sustained response is required when confronting something as deep-seated as racism often is. “You can’t wave a wand for a few months and think that is it,” he said. “It is a shame that there are not more national campaigns promoting integration, inclusion and anti-discrimination. ”

Ogden also indicated that the sporting organisations need to up their game.

“Referees haven’t always got the training that they need,” he said. “Obviously the FAI has an intercultural officer, the GAA are well set up with an inclusion officer, and both organisations are doing good work, but I think there could be more training of referees. ”

One of Sari’s most high impact events is the annual Soccerfest tournament, Ire-land’s largest intercultural soccer tournament for men, women and children and which attracts thousands of spectators to the Phoenix Park every year.

One of the aims of Soccerfest is to encourage the replication of the event in other parts of Ireland. A notable achievement in this regard was Sari’s involvement in the establishment of Charter NI’s Football Fest NI in Belfast, which is entering its third year.

Another important Sari initiative is Count Us In, an education and sports activity programme that generates intercultural dialogue and builds social capital in and out of the classroom and youth clubs

The next big event on the Sari calendar is Africa Week Athletics in May. “We did a survey of all the athletics clubs in Ireland and found there was a very low membership from ethnic minorities, and particularly from Africans, and that led to us to doing Africa Week Athletics last year,” explained Ogden.

Kenyan sports idol Kip Keino visited the 2012 event, which featured athletics competitions for girls and boys from under eight up to adult participants from all backgrounds.

On the broader front, Ogden noted that soccer has particular potential as a conduit for social development. Fifa’s Football for Hope programme and organisations such as Street Football World in Berlin effectively utilise soccer for social development, but Ogden feels that Ireland hasn’t quite plugged in to this concept. Soccer here is often viewed as little more than a game.

The Sari chair, who is a successful and respected photographer, also thinks there are positive signs that FIFA is beginning to take anti-racism more seriously, with the recent establishment of its Anti-Racism and Discrimination Task Force.

But in Ireland there is simply not enough activity around inclusive, anti-racism and anti-discrimination in sport, he concludes.

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