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World Cup Plagued by Concerns of Racism


The World Cup that kicks off in Germany Friday is already plagued by a number of concerns: Fears of corruption, human trafficking - and also worries about a rise in racist and xenophobic incidents during the month-long matches. From Paris, Lisa Bryant takes a look at what European officials are trying to do to combat racism.

Racism and xenophobia are nothing new when it comes to the world of soccer. Last year, racist taunts in Italian and Spanish soccer stadiums reduced African players to tears. In 2004, Spanish fans also shouted racist slurs against two black English players during a match between British and Spanish teams. FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, fined the Spanish football association nearly $90,000 as a result of the incident. Several European soccer players have also aired racist remarks.

Those arent the kind of incidents European authorities want to see at the World Cup in Germany. FIFA is airing a new logo for the games - A time to make Friends, Say no to Racism. The soccer organization is going beyond slogans. In March, FIFA and the European soccer federation introduced new sanctions against anti-Semitic and racist incidents. They range from suspending matches to imposing heavy fines against perpetrators.

The European Union also launched a campaign against racism ahead of the World Cup. Friso Roscam Abbing, spokesman for the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner, says the campaign also targets prostitution rings and other human trafficking.

"While the European Union has no legal powers to undertake any specific action - this is really left to member states," he explained, "nevertheless what came out of our joint action is that we should be very much aware when we issue visas to what might seem supporters of football...or when we check the borders when people arrive with a visa if they are truly supporters. And if theres not a hidden, trafficked woman for the purposes of prostitution."

Individual European countries are also cracking down. A group of athletes and musicians in France have launched an anti-racism project - they're releasing an album next week ahead of France's match against Switzerland. And the German government is stepping up efforts to combat racism during the games.

So are private groups and individuals. Freeman Simplice, an anti-discrimination activist from Cameroon, has launched a hot line in six different languages in Berlin and Brandenburg to register anti-Semitic incidents that take place during the games.

"We think there's going to be a lot of racial attacks, a lot of racial assaults against people of color here. Thats what brought me to initiate this project," he said.

Simplice says people of color face discrimination and slurs on a daily basis in Germany. Only now with the World Cup, he says, are Germans realizing the scope of the problem.

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