Conference Focuses on Violence, Racism in Sport

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The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Union of European Football (soccer) Associations is taking up of violence and racism in sports. The groups are assembling in Brussels this week to discuss the problem. Sandro Calvani, of the United Nations, exaplains what's fueling the athletic tension.


Part of the excitement of being a sports fan is the hype - yelling and cheering for your team and booing your opponent. But sometimes, fans take it too far, and passion leads to violence. The issue of violence and racism in sports is serious enough that representatives from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Union of European Football Associations - that's a soccer group - are coming together in Brussels this week to discuss the problem.

Joining us by phone from Brussels is Sandro Calvani. He's director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Research Institute.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. SANDRO CALVANI (Director, United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute): Hello. How are you?

MARTIN: Very well. Thank you.

Mr. Calvani, what are the specific problems that led to this conference? Were there some specific incidents that just got everybody's attention?

Mr. CALVANI: Yes, there's been an increase of incidents of hooliganism and a situation of racism in sports. And there has been also an increase of across-the-board incidents. That means people were traveling from one country to another inside the European Union, and therefore some authorities have been obliged to suspend the rights of the European citizen, which under the Schengen agreement, can freely circulate across border. And, in that case, a sport will becoming a new kind of wall, separating cultures. And people - instead of being exactly the opposite - sports would be something which allows people to know each other, to travel and to enjoy this industry of entertainment.

MARTIN: Why do you think this is happening?

Mr. CALVANI: We don't have really comparable data. So some scholars are saying that this kind of problem has always existed, has only been exacerbated by the press, by the TV, so it is not very clear whether it is the sport that will cause violence, or it is instead the violence would happen anyhow, which now use sports to express this kind of aggression.

MARTIN: Do you these team rivalries most heated between countries that have political or historical conflicts? I mean, I guess what I'm wondering is are these proxy fights for historical grievances that would otherwise play out on the battlefield? or do you think it's just - I don't know - gangs?

Mr. CALVANI: No. There is absolutely no evidence of these kinds of return to the past wars, because the worst episode had been inside the same country. For example, in Italy, we had a number of them, and even inside the same town. So it's not even the north against the south, or the west against the east of a country. The sporting industry and the civil society at large, together - of course, with the government and the law enforcement, the police and the judicial authority - have now to put place a new methodology for prevention, and, of course, also for response to the problem.

MARTIN: How much of this do you think is motivated by racism?

Mr. CALVANI: There is quite some evidence that the racism is related to that, because there has been also new problems of violence, not only spectators or hooligans or, anyhow, fans of that club or the other club. There have been also events of racism on the field between the players.

MARTIN: Is there any suggestion that the clubs encourage this behavior, thinking that it somehow gives them an advantage? I mean, in this country, you know, we have our occasional incidents of, you know, fighting in the stands. But there are some teams that are known for being particularly hostile to visiting players - mainly by being very noisy and obnoxious. But it generally -it doesn't become, you know, violent so I guess what I'm wondering…

Mr. CALVANI: There is also in recent times, some incident in which - could suggest something like that. But here in Brussels, during this conference that represented this sort of various clubs in the international association of the leagues of Europe, I've expressed a total 100 percent support to sport that we found violence, in particular those sports, which most represented the culture of Europe, which is soccer and a few others. They are fully committed to avoid any - even impression that they could support or, in any case, encourage this kind of behaviors.

MARTIN: Do you think that alcohol plays any role in this?

Mr. CALVANI: Whenever there would be violent events inside and outside stadium, most of times, there have been a connection of alcohol and drugs.

MARTIN: Has anybody considered not selling alcohol at these events?

Mr. CALVANI: It has been tried in some cases, so that some have tested, that shows that whatever there is very strong control metal detector, control of ticket - how the ticket are sold and to whom they are sold, video cameras, including, of course, also control of alcohol, the violence had been enormously reduced or completely disappeared.

MARTIN: Well, that's very interesting. Well, good luck to you.

Mr. CALVANI: Thank you.

MARTIN: Mr. Sandro Calvani is director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Research Institute. He's a speaker at this year's E.U. conference on racism and violence in sport. He spoke to us by phone from Brussels.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. CALVANI: Okay. Thank you very much.

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