London, Great Britain,On March 9, 2015 at a gala event at Kensington Palace, three-time Champions League winner Samuel Eto’o and the FARE Network, an anti-discrimination and social inclusion network that counters inequality and exclusion in football, were awarded the Third European Medal of Tolerance by the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR).
The ECTR is a non-governmental organization comprised of former world leaders and other senior public figures. Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the ECTR, said that the award was to honor and reward the promotion of tolerance and reconciliation.
Dr. Kantor explained why an award for tolerance was being given to people from the world of football.
“Football symbolizes the cooperation of individuals towards one goal, with respect to the opponents, and with respect to the laws and rules of the game. Tolerance is based on competition but also cooperation, on trust, but also rules and regulations,” Dr. Kantor said during the presentation. “Samuel is a worthy recipient. Throughout his career he has taken a firm stance against racism bigotry, refusing to hide in the shadows, and as a consequence has raised awareness of racism in football and society”.
The award ceremony took place amid a time of rising racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, both in general and more acutely surrounding football. Recent footage showing Chelsea supporters proudly denying a black man the ability to get on a train in Paris and West Ham supporters singing anti-Semitic songs as they travel through Stamford Hill, an area known for a sizeable Jewish community, are just two recent examples of hate and intolerance by fans. Elsewhere, black players and players of color are regularly taunted in places like Italy, Holland and Spain, where last year a banana was thrown at Barcelona player Dani Alves who famously proceeded to eat it, and only last month when a match was suspended in Rotterdam after an inflatable banana was thrown at Roma's Ivorian striker, Gervinho.
Additionally, on the field, former West Bromwich Albion player Nicolas Anelka made the ‘Quenelle’, a reverse Nazi salute made famous by Dieudonne, an anti-Semitic French comedian, and in the boardroom, where Wigan Athletic Chairman Dave Whelan was caught making anti-Semitic comments, demonstrate that racism and Antisemitism are not just found on the stands.
“The last year has been a particularly challenging one for football in terms of hate and racism,” Eto’o said. “As players, we need to take a moral stand because we are the people the spectators watch and we have to be a strong example of tolerance in a multi-racial society which I believe football can represent best.”
"Football has the ability to be a unifier rather than a divider and we should have a strong stand against hate, Antisemitism and racism as people involved in the world of football." Kantor concluded.
The first recipient of the European Medal of Tolerance was His Majesty Juan Carlos I, the King of Spain and the second Medal was presented to the President of Croatia Ivo Josipović and the former President of Serbia Boris Tadić.
The ECTR is an opinion-making and advisory body on international tolerance promotion, reconciliation and education, and fosters understanding and tolerance among peoples of various communities, educates towards techniques of reconciliation, facilitates post-conflict social apprehensions, monitors racism, Antisemitism and xenophobia and proposes pro-tolerance initiatives and legal solutions. Among its prominent members are Aleksander Kwaśniewski, former President of Poland, Jose María Aznar, former Prime Minister of Spain, Göran Persson, former Prime Minister of Sweden and Rita Süssmuth, former Speaker of the German Bundestag.