Soccer told to attack racism

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FOOTBALL CLUBS will be told to broadcast anti-racist messages during matches and send black players into schools as part of a government drive to use sport to tackle prejudice.

Tony Banks, the sports minister, is writing to the chairmen of every Premier and football league club in the country this week telling them to draw up a strategy for tackling racism on and off the pitch. He will also urge them to implement an equal opportunities policy for staff. There are hundreds of black players but very few black coaches, managers or administrators.

The move, which follows the damning conclusions of the inquiry into the death of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence, will be a key plank of the Government's strategy for tackling racism in Britain. Ministers believe that footballers, as strong role models for young people, can be a "force for good" who will be instrumental in changing attitudes.

In his letter, Mr Banks emphasises the role sport can play in educating people. "Because of its unique profile and position in many people's lives, football can be a major force for good in society," he says. "Children watch closely what footballers do and listen carefully to what they have to say. As such, there is no more powerful vehicle to take a message of tolerance and respect to a young audience."

Ministers want to see more interaction between football clubs and teachers about racism. Players will be encouraged to use the time they spend in schools to bring home the message that prejudice is destructive.

Mr Banks will also urge all football clubs to buy their local schools copies of the video Show Racism the Red Card, produced by the Government's Football Trust. They will also be encouraged to make a clear announcement about their policy on racism at half-time during matches, to set up confidential phone lines for supporters to make complaints about incidents of racial abuse and to train their stewards to identify racist fans.

A report by the Football Trust last year drew up a wide range of proposals for tackling what it called "institutionalised racism" in the game. The Government has implemented the main recommendation by giving time to a Bill making it an offence for individuals to shout racist abuse during matches.

But ministers are concerned that many clubs have done nothing to change the racist attitude of some fans. According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the number of racist incidents at matches has increased in recent months.

The Football Association was fined by UEFA last year after English fans shouted racist abuse at the black Swedish player Henrik Larsson during the Euro 2000 qualifying match in Stockholm.

Although there are many high-profile black players, the ethnic minorities are severely under-represented among fans. The team with the most non- white supporters is Arsenal. But it only has 2.8 per cent of ethnic fans. Mr Banks wants clubs to do more to attract black and Asian supporters.