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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 06:58 GMT 07:58 UK
Coming up from the stands
By Claire Heald
BBC News

Decked out in national colours, behind painted faces, flags and banners, fans from 32 competing countries will pack Germany's football stadiums for World Cup matches.

German police training in Frankfurt
German police have trained to deal with trouble

They will create the crowd common to all major tournaments from the competition's opening ceremony on 9 June.

But this time, people charged with detecting discrimination will be among their number in the stands.

It may strike observers as hopelessly politically-correct for football, but monitors from across Europe will be the main weapon for anti-racism groups like the UK's Kick It Out.

Working for Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare) - their aim is to help Germany 2006 live up to its slogan: "A time to make friends."

Their preparations come at a time when concern over racist attacks in the country, and internet chatter about hooliganism, is rising.

'Action taken'

Monitors will mingle with the crowd and report abuse or potential trouble to Fifa.

Ashley Cole was subjected to racist chanting in Europe
A lot of it's lip service in regard to racism. It's not a bad idea, but I'll believe it when it happens for a major country like Spain or Italy
Peter John-Baptiste
England fan

It is no direct line to the referee and will only be inside the grounds, admits Kick It Out director Piara Powar. But he maintains it marks a "significant difference" in approach.

"It could mean that for the first time there's action being taken against xenophobia or racism at number of different stadiums," he says.

"The most important challenge for the World Cup is to report and challenge visible displays of racism in the right way to contribute to a celebratory atmosphere."

Ahead the event, it is impossible and ill-advised to predict any abuse or violence, just as the match results are an unknown quantity.

Police warning

Growing concern has been registered, however:

  • In one case, Turkish-born Berlin MP Giyasettin Sayan, is recovering in hospital following what was an apparently racist assault on Friday

  • This week, the German interior minister urged extra vigilance to help tackle a rise in far-right extremism when he presented figures showing a rise in neo-Nazi violence in 2005

  • Former government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye drew criticism from politicians after suggesting that black people should avoid parts of the former communist East Germany

    England fans in Portugal in 2004
    Some have more faith in the fans, not the authorities, to tackle racism

  • In April, an Ethiopian-born man suffered skull and rib injuries in what was reported to be a racist attack in Potsdam

  • In recent matches abroad, England players have been subjected to abuse: Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole to monkey chants in a Spain friendly in Madrid, November 2004. Emile Heskey and Cole during the October 2002 European Championship qualifier in Bratislava, Slovakia

  • Looking forward, German police have warned that far-right groups plan to use the World Cup as a publicity platform. There are fears that fixtures involving Eastern-European countries with a resurgent nationalist far-right and hooligan element could be a flashpoint for trouble. The racism and xenophobia form part of the groups' ideology

'False promises?'

Critics, including Labour MEP Claude Moraes, say this threat is not taken seriously, despite Fifa tightening article 55 of its disciplinary code.

Under the rule, teams whose supporters take part in racist, homophobic or other "contemptuous" behaviour face points being docked, and in further offences, expulsion from competition - including the World Cup.

England fans in Japan 2002
Campaigners want England fans to show their tolerant side

But in the stands, fans and campaigners are sceptical about its implementation. "We will monitor and see if they are false promises and, if they are, say so," says Mr Powar.

More strongly, one fan, Peter John-Baptiste, says: "In terms of informing Fifa, they won't do anything. A lot of it's lip service in regard to racism. It's not a bad idea, but I'll believe it when it happens for a major country like Spain or Italy.

After more than 20 years following England, He has more faith in fellow fans to guard against racism than in the authorities in the World Cup.

Mark Perryman, London Englandfans spokesman, is realistic.

He said: "Black and Asian fans have often said, 'Yes, I have encountered racism at football, but get real, we encounter racism in clubs, on the bus, at work, at school. We don't like it. But the idea that this is going to stop us going to football, is surrendering to the racists.'"

Open country

England has its own history of hooliganism from a minority of people travelling to away matches and has worked to crack down on them.

About 3,600 of the most persistent offenders will be banned from travelling during the World Cup. Arrests abroad have fallen as banning orders have multiplied at home.

For anti-racism campaigners the plea to England fans is to show their tolerant side.

"You're an ambassador for your country. If you believe in the sort of Britain we want to create, you'll be expressing that abroad," says Mr Powar. "Many fans don't give that impression - the songs that are sung, the attitude.

"The Germans are being very open. The message around France '98 was 'If you don't have a ticket, don't come, but the message from the Germans is come, we will be hospitable to you.

"We don't want to ruin that, take it in the way it's meant to you."

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