William Gaillard used to work as Director of Communications of the UN International Drug Control Program. After joining UEFA, he worked as Director of Communication and Public Affairs, being in charge of the relations between the organization and the media, but also with the European institutions in Brussels. He was recently appointed Senior Adviser to the UEFA President, former French footballer Michel Platini.
Is there some space for sports to increase mutual understanding?
- Well, there is a fine balance between competition and mutual understanding. There is always a tension. Football has some soft power, and it has some soft power because we [the UEFA] decided to use that soft power. And in many ways, what we have been doing on issues like racism, discrimination, homophobia is all linked to the soft power that football can express. If we take sanctions against all members that do not conform to certain principles, in those areas, it has an impact on society. Because football players are role models. If they get sanctioned, young people in particular become aware of what is an acceptable behavior, or what is an acceptable statement, and what is not. So we have a tremendous responsibility. And if we do not really do our duty, we can have an extremely negative impact. It is almost this fear of having the negative impact on the development of society, through the influence we have on young people, that forces us to be extremely vigilant in the areas where football has an impact.
Sports include unifying factors. Is it possible to transfer this unity into anyone’s everyday life?
- I really believe that sports is a mirror of society. So it is not better, and it is not worse than society itself. But it has the power to mobilize. Now, because traditionally football has attracted players, and young people, from the less privileged sectors of society, football does play a social integration role. Even beyond the fact that many non-governmental associations use football in dealing with homelessness and poverty, and exclusion and social marginalization. But football clubs in themselves bring people together, who otherwise would never meet. I see it with my own children. I have friends in communities that they would never enter if they did not play football. And that of course brings people together. But we have to be careful, because diversity can also bring conflict. It can also strengthen stereotypes, if we are not careful to put it in the right context. So we have a duty, to make sure that what happens on the pitch works in favor of conciliation, tolerance and unity rather than the opposite effect. And sometimes the border line is very thin between the two.
Sports can help leading to both peace and war. What do you think about the Nazi propaganda film “Olympia” from Leni Riefenstahl (1938)?
- Well you know, when Leni Riefenstahl was working on the film, the historical context was so different from what we are living now that it would be unfair to say today, “oh, you know, of course we do not do that”. When you watch the film today, you are acutely conscious of the whole political background. You are acutely conscious of the role of the movie, as a piece of propaganda. But at the same time, there are some elements in the film, the whole episode between Luz Long and Jesse Owens, where you see ideology being vanquished by the sheer power of human relations. So I do not think society today is considerably better than in it was in 1936. Yes, you had a particularly evil regime, in this very city [Berlin], no doubt. But otherwise, prejudices are still very rife in society and this is why we have to remain vigilant. Because sports can be used for a very negative purpose, as well as a positive one. But we should not be naïve in accepting you know, “wow, it’s great, we all play together”. It has its limitations. We need to enforce a certain code of behavior on an everyday basis. The battle is never completely won.
See the full interview: http://cdnews1.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/an-interview-with-william-gaillard-director-of-communications-senior-advisor-to-the-president-of-uefa-the-annual-academic-conference-on-cultural-diplomacy-2011/