As Euro 2012 draws ever near, so the ugly shadows of racism, anti-Semitism and violence loom ever large, set to blight the beautiful game’s showpiece European tournament.
The racist violence and anti-Semitism at the heart of Polish and Ukranian football was exposed for the world to see on last night’s Panorama, BBC reporter Chris Rogers witnessing a group of Asian fans being attacked on the terraces of a Ukrainian premier league match and hearing sick anti-Semitic chanting at games in Poland. (Watch it on the iPlayer).
The Foreign Office advises black and Asian visitors to Ukraine to “take extra care”. Former England captain Sol Campbell responded to the Panorama footage by suggesting we watch the tournament at home or risk “coming back in a coffin”.
Football culture in many parts of eastern Europe has problems that are deep-seated and barely hidden – racism, neo-nazism and a profound hatred of gay people. Some of our monitoring shows the role football plays in perpetuating hate crimes. We found almost 200 incidents of racism and antisemitism in Polish and Ukrainian stadiums during an 18-month period to September 2011.
The situation in the host nations is so bad the families of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have said they will not travel to Poland and Ukraine because of the fear of racism. Not that the hatred should come as any great surprise.
There is, however, nothing in FARE’s knowledge of either country that has changed significantly since they were awarded the 2012 championships.
Anti-Semitism is also rife in Eastern European football; only last month, Legia Warsaw fans displayed a “Jihad” banner during a Europa League group match against Hapoel Tel Aviv, prompting anti-racism campaigner Rafal Pankowski to comment:
“Some Legia fans have been known for anti-Semitic and extreme-right behaviour for years and they had a chance to express their hatred of Jews again when Legia played an Israeli team, this time adopting a pseudo-Islamist guise.”
“This is yet another case of anti-Semitic behaviour by extremist groups active in Polish football stadiums, and it could have been predicted.”
With Poland jointly hosting next summer’s European Championships, this incident, together with widespread hooliganism, racism and domestic anti-Semitism, will trouble fans and players – and should trouble UEFA, who have yet to take firm action against racist abuse of black players in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, down the years.
• Obscene: Student sends racist tweets about dying Muamba 19 Mar 2012
• Has racism returned to football? 25 Oct 2011
Not that we in this country have a perfect record when comes to ridding the game of prejudice, as the links above highlight and as we reported last May:
Such allegations [of racism and anti-Semitism] are not confined to the rest of Europe. Here, though at nothing like the levels seen in the past, racism, prejudice, bigotry still exist. Admittedly, not on the pitch, not amongst players or coaching staff, but in the stands, among more fans than we’d care to admit. It’s still there, and still not stamped out. Death threats. Anti-Semitism. Homophobia. Even parcel bombs.
Not to mention England’s former captain (and current squad member) going on trial for racism after the finals, and widespread sexism, but nothing like on the scale of what we look set to witness in Poland and Ukraine, and with politicians, media and authorities committed to highlighting and tackling the problem, sorely missing amongst the co-hosts. The battle against bigotry, at home and abroad, goes on.