Undercover observers track racism and discrimination at European football matches

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Mix it up. Stay alert. Feign emotion if necessary.

Among the thousands of fans in the stands of the biggest football matches in Europe are some people who operate undercover. Trained volunteer observers listen for racist chants and watch for extremist symbols on banners.

“You have to be aware of the environment and fit in without standing out. You have to be discreet,” an observer who has worked at games for some of soccer’s best-known clubs and national teams told The Associated Press.

“Obviously nothing is posted on social media. You have to be anonymous. You have to go unnoticed. Don’t start conversations with anyone.”

The observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the job requires it, is part of a program conducted on behalf of European soccer’s governing body UEFA by the Fare Network, a leading anti-discrimination group. Fare monitors about 120 games a season in Europe’s three main men’s club competitions, chief executive Piara Powar told the AP, and more around the world in national team events such as World Cup qualifying.