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Football must lead the fight against racism inside and outside of the game, Michel Platini, head of the sport's European governing body UEFA told a United Nations meeting on Monday.
As the globe's most popular sport, the iconic former France international said, football has a particular role to play in confronting prejudice.
"With extraordinary popularity comes responsibility," Platini told campaigners and diplomats at a session on racism and sport hosted by the UN's European offices in Geneva.
"Football is honour-bound, by virtue of that very popularity, to promote values which are able to make society more tolerant of diversity," he said.
Over recent years, UEFA and its global football counterpart FIFA have boosted their arsenal of sanctions against racism.
Among the weapons deployed are financial penalties and empty-stadium orders against clubs and national teams whose fans are involved in racist incidents.
"Those who govern our game have a duty to protect players, who are in their workplace, against all forms of discrimination," Platini said.
"Today's football does not tolerate any discrimination, whether it be racial, cultural, religious, sexist or homophobic, and there's no hierarchy of evil," he added.
But with high-profile cases continuing to hit the headlines -- most recently in Great Britain, Italy and Ukraine -- campaigners argue that more effort is needed.
"There's a real problem with racism in some regions of Europe, for sure," said Platini.
"This behaviour is largely down to small organised groups who choose to express their hatred in a football stadium in order to take advantage of the popularity and media coverage enjoyed by our sport."
But the broader context could not be ignored, he said.
"Football reflects society's values but also, unfortunately, its prejudices, fears and mistrust," he underlined.
"Football is just the tip of the iceberg in societies in which, given the current crisis, the process of social integration is breaking down. But it's precisely because football is often more open to diversity than wider society that it enables advance that would be more difficult in other areas,"