Prime Minister David Cameron has called on football to crush "racism" within the game before the impact of recent incidents had a negative effect on society at large.
Cameron was speaking at a Downing Street anti-discrimination summit with former and current black players, ex-England international John Barnes and Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chairman Clarke Carlisle, as well as football chiefs.
But the Prime Minister was confident work done in the fight against racism in the sport would not be undermined by a couple of high-profile controversies.
"If everyone plays their role, then we can easily crush and deal with this problem," Cameron said.
Cameron, who takes his young son to football matches, added: "What happens on the field influences what happens off the field. You see children as young as six imitating the behaviour they see on the field.
"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's intervention came after two major flashpoints for English football.
Controversy was stirred when Liverpool striker Luis Suarez refused to shake hands with Manchester United's Patrice Evra before their clubs' match at Old Trafford earlier this month.
Suarez has only recently returned for Liverpool after serving an eight-match ban for racially abusing Evra during a game in October.
Meanwhile Chelsea's John Terry has been stripped of the England captaincy while he awaits a criminal trial on charges of racially abusing QPR's Anton Ferdinand. Terry denies the charges.
Cameron added British football should be proud of the "fantastic achievement" of its anti-racism work during the past 20 years or so, noting other countries had failed to take similar action.
"But we have some problems still today," he said.
"We need to act quickly to make sure those problems do not creep back in.
Cameron joked that he felt embarrassed coming to the meeting from question time in the House of Commons as that was "a contact sport that sets an appalling example to people".
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said after the meeting he had given England's governing Football Association (FA) two months to come up with an action plan to tackle a variety of race and homophobia-related issues.
There are currently no openly gay footballers in English football and Carlisle said it was time homophobia was treated in common with all other forms of prejudice.
"When it comes to homophobia we need to elevate that discrimination so it's on the level with all other forms of discrimination," Carlisle explained.
"We need to attack the language that is used at base level so words like 'homo' or 'he's so gay' are not acceptable."
But just hours after Carlisle made those remarks West Ham's Ravel Morrison, widely regarded as one of the most talented young footballers in England, was fined Â£7,000 ($11,000) by the FA for a homophobic Twitter post.