MADRID, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Spain's sports minister Jaime Lissavetzky has promised a radical approach to combating racism in football with tough action against the ultra groups that encourage racist behaviour.
'We need the courage to confront this problem and act decsively against it,' Lissavetzky said when he presented the new 'Hold out your hand' initiative designed to raise awareness of the problem amongst football fans.
'We have made progress, but there are still a lot of things to do and we won't close our eyes to the problem.
'Football needs to provide an example to the rest of society in this matter. We want to be radical and get to the root of the problem.
'It is the ultra groups that are often the seed bed of these attitudes. They don't represent the views of Spanish society and we need to eliminate them.'
The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), the Football League (LFP), UEFA, Spanish anti-racist groups as well as players and fans associations are all backing the 'Hold out your hand' campaign which will involve a series of events at first and second division games over the next two weeks.
Lissavetzky said the initiative was part of a three-pronged attack on the problem.
'We are raising awareness on the one hand, but also improving the methods of detection of the perpetrators and introducing stronger punishments.
'We are in the process of passing a new law against racism, xenophobia and intolerance and we hope it will be a useful tool in helping us achieve our aim of zero tolerance against racism.'
Outbreaks of racist abuse have become a common occurrence in Spanish football matches in recent years, with leading clubs such as Atletico Madrid, Real Zaragoza and Getafe receiving fines because of the behaviour of some of their fans.
National coach Luis Aragones caused an uproar in October 2004 when he racially insulted Arsenal's French international striker Thierry Henry. He was cleared of racist conduct concerning the incident by a Spanish court last week.
Regarding the new initiative, Esteban Ibarra, spokesman for the Movement against Intolerance told Reuters: 'This is the first step on the road to dealing with the problem, but we need to carry on taking further measures.
'The problem is growing and we need to act, especially against the ultra groups. The recent events in Italy show us what happens if you don't.'