Fears that the Euro 2012 football tournament would be marked with racist incidents are already playing out, only a few days after its start.
UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations, is investigating racist chanting at a black Czech football player by Russian supporters at the Russia vs Czech Republic match on Friday in Wroclaw, Poland. The match was also marred by violence by Russians against stewards. The championship is being held jointly in Poland and Ukraine.
This follows UEFA’s refusal to investigate racist chanting at Dutch players in an open training session in Krackow, Poland. The chanting was said by UEFA to be “isolated” but footage shows hundreds making monkey noises.
Dutch manager Ruud Gullit has supported Mario Balotelli’s threat to walk off the pitch if he is racially abused while playing for Italy.
Michel Platini, the UEFA president, who has been accused of complacency, said Balotelli would be booked if he did so.
Reporting for the Observer, Daniel Taylor says that he has observed white supremacist graffiti all around Krakow — although he notes that authorities spend large sums removing it:
The city council has its own hotline and the Krakow Post is routinely filled with stories promoting multiculturalism. One recent front-page headline read simply: “Stamp Out Racism.”
In Ukraine, many countries are already boycotting Euro2012 there in protest over Ukraine’s treatment of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister of Ukraine who was jailed for seven years last year after what was widely seen as a sham trial to silence her.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK said that sport and politics should not mix. He has also dubbed a BBC programme on racism in Ukraine “biased and unfair.” That showed violent racism by football supporters in Ukraine, including the program’s recording of an assault on a group of Asian football supporters.
The BBC show underlined the other boycott going on of Ukraine by many England supporters because of fears they might be attacked if they or their friends are black or Asian. The graphic scenes prompted the former England defender Sol Campbell to urge black England supporters to avoid the tournament, warning that they might return “in a coffin.”
The BBC also showed apparent antisemitic chants from fans of Wisla Krakow. Last year a report commissioned by UEFA documented hundreds of serious hate crimes at recent football matches in Poland and Ukraine.
Taylor points out that racism and fascist displays are far from confined to just Eastern Europe. Croatian fans once stood on the terraces in the formation of a swastika and made Sieg Heil salutes. Juventus supporters once held up a banner about Mario Balotelli with the words: “A Negro cannot be Italian.”
When England’s black players were abused in Spain, Spanish sports reporters accused them of “absurd accusations” and “gross exaggerations.” The sports daily As accused the English of being “very serious when it comes to race, politically correct to the extreme, which is just another way of hiding their own defects.”
England has made strenuous efforts to eliminate racism in football — and is also trying to do the same with homophobia.
Last week, two groups of England team members visited Auschwitz, which is near Krakow, and the factory where Oskar Schindler saved Jews from the Krakow ghetto during the Second World War.
The former Chelsea manager, Avram Grant, whose own family lost 15 members at Auschwitz, guided them around the site and then addressed the gathering outside the ovens used by the Nazis to burn the dead. He said:
It’s very important you are here. People will see you have come here, and then others will follow. It’s important to talk about this and spread the message of what happened here.
The players were visibly shaken as they were shown piles of children’s shoes, medical prostheses, glasses and household items confiscated from prisoners on their arrival at the camp, and by heaps of the victims’ hair. Player Wayne Rooney said:
It puts football into perspective. It will never be forgotten. We know that kids nowadays are interested in footballers, and if a few more people understand what happened because we came here today then that has to be good.
Watch England football squad visit Auschwitz:
There is something immensely heartwarming about watching these “lads” visit such a place.
March against racism in Kiev Marfucha