Leading soccer star honored for condemning racism in sports

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — A prominent European group promoting tolerance honored one of Spain’s leading soccer stars for his efforts to curb racism in sports.

The European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation announced that it would give its third European Medal of Tolerance to Samuel Eto’o Fils, a Cameroon-born soccer striker who is a three-time Champions League winner.

Eto’o received Spanish citizenship in 2007.

Eto’o, who has condemned racism in sports publically, was scheduled to receive the honor at a ceremony on Monday in London’s Kensington Palace, the council said in a statement.

Moshe Kantor, president of the council and of the European Jewish Congress, said Eto’o was selected for his “personal leadership and devotion to combating manifestations of racism and intolerance. Personally a victim of many racist incidents, he has found the courage and will to stand against the racists, building awareness and inspiring fellow footballers and millions of football fans.”

Sharing the honor with Eto’o is the FARE Network, an anti-discrimination and social inclusion network focusing on combating soccer-related xenophobia.

Tensions between ethnic groups in Europe, where many countries are seeing a rising far-right and radical Islam, in recent years have led to increased efforts by European organizations and governments to combat manifestations of racism and other forms of exclusion in soccer stadiums, where derogatory chants about Jews and blacks are commonplace.

That effort featured prominently on the agenda of the March 3 conference in Brussels of Facing Facts, a project set up in 2011 by CEJI: A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe, and other groups to help anti-racism watchdogs become more effective.

At the event, Joanna Perry, the hate crime officer at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, referred to recent incidents last month in which fans of Britain’s Chelsea soccer team prevented a black man from getting on a Metro in Paris, and another in which fans were seen singing anti-Semitic songs in the London Underground.

“Hate crimes persist but what is changing is the response,” Perry said in reference to strong and immediate condemnation of the fans by Chelsea’s management. ”They know now they need to respond quickly, and this is another sign that the response has become much stronger to these things.”