- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LONDON (AP) - British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to “crush” racism in soccer during a summit he hosted on Wednesday to address issues in the Premier League.

The Downing Street gathering of politicians, soccer leaders and anti-racism campaigners follows high-profile racism cases this season involving players. Cameron warned that abusive behavior by soccer stars is imitated by youngsters and must be stopped.

“We have some problems still today,” Cameron said at the start of the summit. “We need to act quickly to make sure those problems do not creep back in.

“I hope what we can agree today is to make sure that everybody who has the ability to deal with this issue takes the steps they can … if everyone plays their role, then we can easily crush and deal with this problem.”

The government announced Wednesday it will give $4.7 million toward the English Football Association’s new coaching center in a bid to encourage more people from ethnic minorities to become managers. There are no black managers in the Premier League.

Cameron said Wednesday’s meeting was designed to reaffirm vigilance against racism and discrimination.

The most serious case will be tried in court in July. Chelsea defender John Terry is charged with racially abusing Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a match in October. Terry was stripped of the England captaincy _ a move opposed by coach Fabio Capello, who quit in protest.

English Football Association chairman David Bernstein told the summit that the governing body had already shown a willingness to impose “very tough sanctions where necessary.”

Liverpool, the 18-time English champion, came under fire for its support of striker Luis Suarez when he was banned for eight matches after racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in October.

Liverpool, owned by the parent company of the Boston Red Sox, was condemned by anti-racism groups for backing Suarez and allowing players and manager Kenny Dalglish to wear T-shirts featuring Suarez’s picture in a show of solidarity before a match against Wigan weeks later.

This month, Suarez was criticized for refusing to shake hands with Evra, who is black, on Feb. 11 in their first meeting since the confrontation in October. He apologized later under pressure.

“What happens on the field influences what happens off the field. You see children as young as 6 imitating the behavior they see on the field,” Cameron said. “So this is not just important for football, it’s important for the whole country … we want to make sure football is all about a power to do good, rather than anything else.”

Cameron believes having more black and ethnic minority coaches in the game would help combat racism.

“We simply cannot brush this under the carpet,” Cameron wrote in Wednesday’s edition of The Sun newspaper. “I’ve no doubt that football will crack this problem _ and the government stands ready to do anything it can to help.”

The meeting also dealt with the lingering problem of homophobia in soccer.

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