Newsmaker: Powar struggle

Nathalie Thomas

Piara Powar Director, Kick It Out - Campaigning against racism at football's forthcoming World Cup.

When the England football team plays Paraguay on Saturday, it will mark the beginning of a long battle for World Cup glory. But for Piara Powar, director of the Kick It Out campaign, half the battle surrounding the world's biggest football tournament has already been won.

"The difference between this tournament and all others," says Powar, "is the involvement we've had with Fifa and the way in which it has realised that racism is a problem."

Kick It Out was started by the Commission for Racial Equality and is now an independent voluntary organisation funded by the football authorities.

It has a small staff and a network of dedicated volunteers, and has been chipping away at football's international governing body for years. Now Fifa has finally opened its doors wide to the campaign, which aims to put an end to racism in football. For the first time, official monitors will be watching the terraces for racist and xenophobic abuse. The anti-racist messages Kick It Out and its partner organisations in Europe have been disseminating for more than a decade will be broadcast to world audiences from the quarter-finals onwards.

For Powar and his colleagues in the Football Against Racism in Europe network (Fare), this is a major coup. "Over the past year or so, there has been a real recognition throughout Fifa and Uefa that this is a serious issue," he says.

The issue of racism is particularly complicated in the host country, Germany, given its history and the resurgence of a neo-Nazi movement, admits Powar. It's a complication Fare is prepared for, however. Fare monitors with expertise in neo-Nazi symbolism will be keeping an eye on activities inside the stadiums, while on the outside the campaign will be trying to unite fans through informal kickabouts on blow-up football pitches.

Powar is confident that the World Cup will pass without a hitch, despite reports that neo-Nazis are intent on causing trouble. "Everybody knows this is the world showpiece and no set of fans wants to be known for their racism or xenophobic tendencies, which makes it a slightly easier task," he says.

If anything, the England fans worry Powar more. "One of our concerns is that we might see a lot of obvious forms of English nationalism being played out," he says. "Too many references to the war for our liking, perhaps, and lots of Basil Fawlty-style goose-stepping and Sieg Heils."

Powar warns that taking the mickey out of the Germans might seem like harmless fun, but England fans who take it too far could find themselves in trouble. Nazi salutes are illegal in Germany, he points out, and in smaller towns offenders could find themselves spending the night in jail.

After the World Cup, Powar and his colleagues return to the harder-to-tackle issues in the UK. He believes Kick It Out's future lies in tackling problems of representation, inclusion and racism at a grass-roots level.

"Racism inside stadiums has been tackled because fans understand the contradiction of abusing a black player from the opposition when you have black players on your own side," he says. "The difficulty now is how we challenge what people see as glass ceilings and how we reach out to excluded communities."

Such work could take the campaign into unusual places. For example, Powar reveals, it is currently working with a youth group tackling gun crime in Hackney. These less glamorous projects will become a bigger part of what Kick It Out will do, he says: "It's the work that I think is important, but it's not as visible as protesting about racism directed at Thierry Henry."

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