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Friday, June 9, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Racism casts a cloud over World Cup 2006

The Associated Press

BERLIN — U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley has heard the ugly words, vicious taunts screamed by fans in Holland simply because he is black.

Cameroon's brilliant Samuel Eto'o was so sickened by insults hurled his way that he threatened to walk off the field.

Even Thierry Henry, one of the world's best players and a spokesman for racial tolerance, has been stung by a slur — from Spain's coach, no less.

Soccer has struggled for years to rid itself of racism. For this World Cup in Germany, which opens today with two matches, the governing body of the world's sport is making harmony a central theme.

"Football, like most sports, is combative — you play to win. But it shouldn't have anything to do with racism or violence," said Federico Addiechi, head of a FIFA division that deals with corporate social responsibility. "The problem will not disappear in a couple of days in the World Cup, but it's important to highlight the problem when you have such a platform."

German officials who don't want racist thugs to seize that platform have planned extensive security measures following recent attacks on minorities here. FIFA is trying to do its part, making its message of tolerance a theme at matches and highlighting its commitment at a news conference prior to kickoff.

Today

Matches: Germany vs. Costa Rica, 9 a.m.; Poland vs. Ecuador, noon.

TV: ESPN2.

The 32-nation competition attracts fans from all over the globe — soccer is the most cosmopolitan sport in the world, played in every corner of the Earth. Even researchers at the South Pole play an occasional game.

That kind of harmony doesn't always extend to fans, whose passionate enthusiasm too often can be tinged with racial hatred.

Hooligans, who don't care who they beat up, get much of the attention, with violence marring both the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship. But as more black and mixed-race players appear in far-flung European leagues, racism is becoming even more pervasive.

In the last year:

• Eto'o, who stars for Spanish power Barcelona, could be seen mouthing "no more" after being taunted in February with monkey sounds for a second year by Zaragoza fans. The team was fined $10,700, but that didn't stop Santander fans from insulting Eto'o two months later.

• Ivory Coast and Messina defender Marc Zoro was reduced to tears by racist slurs and boos last November from Inter Milan fans.

• Criticizing an influx of foreign players in Ukraine, national coach Oleg Blokhin said youngsters should learn from native sons, "not some zumba-bumba whom they took off a tree, gave him two bananas and now he plays in the Ukrainian League."

• Ujpest FC, a top Hungarian team, was fined $23,250 by the country's federation in December after its fans chanted anti-Semitic slurs during a league match.

• AS Roma played its Feb. 8 home game at a neutral site and without spectators as punishment for its fans displaying Nazi and fascist symbols in a match against Livorno.

The sport's biggest stars aren't immune.

Spanish fans have taunted and spit at Brazil's Ronaldo, a three-time world player of the year.

And Spain coach Luis Aragones was fined $3,900 after making a racist remark about Henry during an October 2004 meeting with his team.

World soccer officials are searching for answers.

U.S. schedule


Monday: Vs. Czech Republic, 9 a.m., ESPN2

June 17: Vs. Italy, 11:30 a.m., Ch. 4

June 22: Vs. Ghana, 7 a.m., ESPN

In March, FIFA toughened its anti-racism rules. Professional clubs will lose three points for a first offense — whether by a fan, player or team official — and six points for a second. Additional violations can bring disqualification from tournaments and even demotion to a lower division. At the World Cup, teams could be penalized points for remarks by players and coaches.

A "Football Against Racism" logo will cover each field's center circle until just before kickoff. Before each quarterfinal game, team captains will read a "declaration against racism" over the public-address system, and photos of teams and referees holding the Football Against Racism flag will be shown.

"You look at FIFA, and you wonder if they're doing enough or if they're doing anything at all," said Beasley, the American star who has been harassed while playing for PSV Eindhoven. "But, at the same time, I look at it as, what more can they do? Who do you suspend?"

AP reporters Ronald Blum, John Pye and Brian Trusdell contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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