young soccer team

details of interview

Role of the Interviewed: Head of the Municipality Office for Youth and Sports

Age: 42

Gender: male

Nationality: Portuguese

Type of radicalization:

Historical period collocation: n/a

Date/Country of the Interview: 26/09/2018, Portugal

Interviewer: Rosto Solidário

Rosto Solidário

Have you witnessed or experienced personal situations of radicalization during your activity in sport organizations? What kind of radicalizations have you detected? (Gender, politics, religion, racism, crime, homophobia…)

Head of Municipality Office

There are different kinds of discrimination, not only related with racial issues, which is not that frequent within our territory, fortunately. I’m talking about a very wide range of types of discrimination, based on social, religious, gender and ethnic background. And then we have discrimination based on disabilities or special needs.

Telling your story. What has happened? How has the story started?

In our municipality you can find a significant number of people with physical and psychological disabilities. The city council tries to ensure that this people access opportunities to play sports by proposing sports programs that matches their skills. The same way we also foster sports within elderly people in a regular basis.
Back to social discrimination we need to acknowledge that in soccer is very usual seeing people mistreating referees and so, through homophobic comments and other kind of hate speech (related to family members, for example). Also race is still a trigger for hate speech specially at the higher levels of completion. But is true that in our days is not as bad as it was back in the eighties.
Our national team is currently including a lot of players that either were born in Lusophone countries and then came to play in Portugal and end it up getting Portuguese citizenship, either others that are second generations from immigrants from countries such as Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, etc.

How did you realize what was going on? What kind of signals could you detect? How do you explain radicalization, referring to your experience?

In my perspective people have a lot of prejudice towards people and particularly players who get a European country citizenship. I recall situations that supporters would throw bananas into the field relating black players with monkey.
But as soon as they start getting good results in sports people tend to forget that. Some examples of that are: Pepe who came to Portugal to play in Porto and end it up joining the national team or Ngolo Kante who is currently playing in France.
Fortunately, UEFA is actively seeking to discouraged this kind of behavior through programs like United Against Racism that includes real penalties for those (players and supporters) who show any kind of discrimination.
When someone is watching a match, especially as a group, is common to use assumptions based in race, social group, religions and political values and ideologies to build prejudice and even as a way to speak about a certain player. Example: if a player is Muslim or originally from Middle East you would speak about his performance as “Mohamed this or that”, even if his name is not Mohamed. I think that to a certain point this happens everywhere.

Have you tried to cope with this situation? What was possible to do? What have you done? Have you involved other people/organizations? Who was involved?

To ensure that vulnerable and marginalized groups are included and really practice exercise and sports the city council not only has its own programs, projects, initiatives but also seeks to support a paradigm shift in local clubs, teams towards social inclusion of those same groups at all levels.
In addition to that, the city council has been working to raise the profile of adapted modalities such as wheel chair basketball, boccia, etc. Through this programs we also seek to fight discrimination.
Some other relevant initiatives:

  • National Plan for Ethics in Sport – encouraging equality and ethical behaviour within sports.
  • “Soccer for all”: Portuguese Football Federation program.

More than ever teams are opened to host players from all backgrounds. Recently you can find some cases of teams hosting refugees. Nevertheless, supporters and communities can still be very suspicious at the beginning. I think is just because they fear the unknown. In our municipality you would find this about players and board members from Nigeria. But as soon as they get to know the players and build trust in the team that starts to fade away.
Overall I find that our municipality is very welcoming of migrants. For example, regarding sports a group of immigrants from Venezuela recently joined to establish a baseball team. This was a great initiative to help with their integration. Of course we also faced some borderline situations with kids brought from other countries with a promise of a professional career and were deceived. This bring human traffic to our minds and in those cases local authorities need to jump in and act immediately.

Did you feel you had the skills to manage this kind of situations? Which was the most difficult part of it? Have you had any form of support?

Sports managers and board members are lacking training. We can find evidences of that by, for example, the way that they deal with parents. Currently the connection with parents and the way they seek to engage in their kids’ team is a very relevant challenge. Some parents claim for his or her child to play to all costs. Frequently the parents overcome coacher guidance and disrespect other team members. Most of the times staff doesn’t have the skills to face and manage the situation. Discrimination really starts at home, at the bench.
We’ve come to a point were some clubs started to ban parents from watching the games, particularly in higher level of completion matches. We are in the right track because I do remember many episodes back in my childhood that supporters were violent physically and verbally towards teams and referees and club did nothing.

End of the story. How did the story end up? What have you learned from this personal experience? What would you say to people who are living similar situations?

Managers, coaches and local teams board members are in a great position to map discrimination or vulnerability situations as they spend so much time with players and are contributing to their educational and learning path. Training and capacity building are crucial to take the most of sport’s potential in fighting inequalities.

Conclusions. Are there other relevant aspects related to (de)radicalization that you want to highlight?

Is important to only to raise awareness in the wider community but also to support financially particularly smaller and local teams to be more inclusive. Of course policies need to follow the same trend and really foster inclusion and municipalities have a strong role to play in keeping advocating for policies and following practices that can really bring inclusion into sports and to fight discrimination and foster (de)radicalization through sports.

capacity building to exploit sport’s potential