Euro 2016 Hat-trick!

June 14, 2016 | Nick Taylor

(Tracy Holland) Sunday was day three of the Euro 2016 football tournament and the third day of violence reported in the media – that’s the hat-trick I’m referring to. My heart goes out to all those worrying about family and friends attending Euro 2016: to those who remain at home – wherever home is, regardless of nationality; to the peaceful residents of France and to those who are trying to protect everyone, including the troublemakers, from the very real threat of terrorism at the tournament.

Why am I writing about football related violence? The potency of harm is not diminished by its cause. The effect of a paralysing or life-taking attack at Euro 2016 is exactly the same on the individual, and their loved ones, as one rooted in racial or religious difference. Thankfully, the severity of harm done in sport related violence is not often comparable to that caused by terrorists and extremists fighting under their own banner, but it’s far more difficult to understand.

For the few, sport provides the opportunity for a call to arms. Although they are few, their ranks are swelled by the unwitting, fuelled, perhaps by alcohol, certainly by adrenaline. Many fighting side by side with extremist groups at football matches would be uncomfortable, hopefully even appalled, to be referenced under that banner. These are the people to whom brawling is just part of going to the football. If they are offended by the comparison with extremists, and I’m sure that many would be, they should remember the old adage: if it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck….

It’s uncomfortable to think that we must see these people in shops and in the street. We might know them as football ‘fans’ yet be wholly unaware of this aspect of their lives. This highlights an important truth – it’s impossible to know someone just by looking at them. Never was the saying ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ more relevant than today.

At the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace we work only for peace, and as part of our work we strive to counter extremism. I have no part in the content, development or delivery of our programmes, and I don’t know whether we’ve ever specifically considered sport related violence, but what is the difference in the behaviour of any of the agitators and aggressors at Euro 2016 and the supremacists or anti-Semitics?

We have a fantastic programme called My Former Life – I’m passionate about all our programmes but this one is closest to my heart because it proves that anyone can change and it’s never too late. We show a film of four very brave individuals who have turned away from violence and now work to promote peace. The film features an ex-jihadist, a former white supremacist, an ex-member of the IRA and a lady who used to recruit for so-called Islamic State. The testimonies of these people are powerful antidotes to the allure of extremism because they speak from experience and they understand the reasons why others might be drawn in. Why do I say they are brave? By making the film and openly condemning violence they have put themselves at considerable personal risk.

My Former Life contains two messages; it shows the realities of extremism, and it proves it’s never too late for anyone to change.

Promoting peace can be as simple as a smiling at a newcomer so they feel they fit in. Please do it, and please donate when you can to help us to continue our work.