New York - Racism is not a soccer problem, but a wider social ill,
Portuguese star soccer player Luis Figo told AFP on Wednesday, in the wake of a
succession of racial abuse scandals across European soccer.
Figo, in New York to promote Inter Milan's charity work with youngsters in
trouble areas around the world, said the club's initiative showed how
"football has a responsibility." The project, called Inter Campus,
teaches soccer to 10 000 children in 25 countries.
But despite a stream of accusations of racism involving European fans,
players and even a referee recently, Figo said the sport is not at fault.
"It's not a problem of football," said Figo, a retired midfielder
for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter, as well as former linchpin of his
Portuguese national side.
"It's like everything. In a stadium of so much people, you always find
some part (that) are not so intelligent. I think it's a problem of our society,
it's not a problem of only football," he said at the offices of the
Italian ambassador to the United Nations, who is also a backer of the Inter
Among the embarrassing rows to afflict the sport has been Chelsea captain
John Terry's four-game domestic ban for racist comments at QPR defender Anton
Ferdinand during a match last year.
But Figo said that even if elements of the crowds might have a racism
problem, the players do not - although they might say the wrong thing in the
heat of the moment.
"Sometimes it can happen during the game that you are more burning with
some situation and you probably tell things you're not thinking about," he
"But I don't think that the football players think about that because
all (through) your career you are (with) blacks and other races," he said.
Figo said that the Inter Campus program, with projects everywhere from
Angola to Venezuela, demonstrates professional soccer’s better nature.
"Football has to have causes and fight for the integration of people
and give them the opportunity of a future," he said. The sport can teach
disadvantaged youngsters "how you play like a team, in terms of education,
school, in terms of family. More than anything, you see a smile in the face of
Put on the spot about the sport's hottest debate of all - who's greater:
former French star Zinedine Zidane or today's Barcelona wizard and Argentina
captain Lionel Messi? - Figo said he couldn't choose.
"They are totally different football players. For me it's very hard to
choose one," he said.
However he hinted at Zidane's greater stature when he noted that just a few
years ago the pool of players to consider was bigger.
"The biggest difference you find now is that in this generation you
probably have just four or five that you can choose. In the generation of
Zidane, or probably before..., if you count you find 20 or 25 greatest football