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A soccer tournament with a social conscience

The Anti-Racist World Cup in Bologna, Italy, draws more than 200 amateur teams each year who come to build bridges and challenge a history of soccer hooliganism in Europe.

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Among other positive results, the tournament has developed collaboration with Bologna's Radio Asterisco, which broadcasts live from the festival each day. One afternoon, radio DJs interviewed Jibril Deen, a native Gambian and naturalized citizen of Hungary, who formed the African Stars Football Club in 1994 when the end of communism in Eastern Europe marked a time of social and economic upheaval.

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"We formed the soccer club to create understanding between Africans and Hungarians because there was a rise in anti-immigrant groups in the early 1990s," he says.

Christian Peterniti, a musician from Sardinia whose hip-hop music reflects poverty and social struggle in the barrios of Palermo, performed live on the air with his group GenteStranaPosse. After playing soccer at the Anti-Racist World Cup in 2007, he returned to Sicily and worked to create a similar tournament involving immigrants and teams from the barrios of Palermo.

"In starting a tournament, we have witnessed how people have really been changed by it," Mr. Peterniti says. "It's something so simple and accessible to everyone, just like music."

Music was the theme of the film "Nazirock," screened for a crowd of more than 100 people in the "Anti-Racist Piazza," the main square of the tournament. The Italian documentary, directed by Claudio Lazzaro, explores neo-fascist and neo-Nazi rock bands in Italy and their role in the politics of intolerance.

While the atmosphere of the tournament is festive, forum discussions range from the aggressive culture of machismo that permeates the ultra fan culture to the subject of discrimination against Roma in Europe.

Andrea Fabbri Cossarini, a social worker with the Italian trade union CGIL, was working to collect fingerprints as a symbolic display of protest against a controversial Italian initiative to fingerprint all Roma children. While Italian leaders claim the initiative will help integrate Roma children living in Italy, the EU Parliament has called the fingerprinting racial discrimination.

"These people are Italian citizens just like me, and no one has taken my fingerprint," Mr. Cossarini says, who added that efforts such as the Anti-Racist World Cup could help improve the climate of tolerance in Europe. "We need to show that we are able to create a Europe which is not defined by the euro, but by a social consciousness."

The CGIL team, in green and white stripes, was warming up on a field beside "Dynamo Papinsky," one of the youngest teams present, whose members came from a local youth center and had made their own T-shirts and practiced for four months in anticipation of the event. It was their first tournament.

"Football is very good for them because it really helps them to release a lot of energy, stress, and aggression," says Monia Mattioli, a youth center educator as she watches the team, made up of Italians and second-generation Moroccans and Tunisians, warm up.

What did the team expect from their first game at the World Cup? "To win," said one player with determination. And they did, 1-0.

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