UPDATE (12:30 p.m.): UEFA fined the Russian soccer association $150,000 Wednesday after fans attacked stewards in Wroclaw, Poland, following the team’s 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic last Friday. Russia could lose six points in Group A for a repeat offense. Russia can appeal the decision within three days.
Russian fans were filmed fighting with stadium staff after the match and four stewards were reportedly treated for minor injuries at a hospital. The staff was trying to detain a Russian fan who they believed threw a firecracker onto the field. The fine was also due to the fireworks and “illicit banners” displayed by fans during the match.
Two of the biggest concerns leading up to Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine were racism and hooliganism. And less than one week into the competition, both issues are in the spotlight.
Despite assurances from the co-hosts that neither would be a problem during Europe’s international soccer championship, incidents of racism and clashes involving hooligans are beginning to overshadow what has already been a thrilling opening five days of play.
Poland’s 1-1 draw with Russia on Tuesday in Warsaw kept the co-hosts alive in Group A, but it also triggered a brawl between the two fan bases that injured at least 24 people and resulted in 184 being detained.
But Polish officials did their best to create a positive spin by emphasizing the swift intervention that prevented further violence. Police used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue those involved.
“We did not allow aggression to escalate on the part of the hooligans,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement. “Police specializing in prevention and crime took part in the action, catching the most aggressive fans.”
The incident began after about 5,000 Russians waving flags marched through central Warsaw to the National Stadium ahead of Tuesday’s match. That didn’t sit well with Polish fans, who found the display provocative. Of those detained, 156 were Poles.
But with the rare opportunity to be in the international spotlight, most Poles are concerned about projecting a violent, racist stereotype to the rest of Europe — and Tuesday’s clash certainly didn’t help that image.
“I would say that it shouldn’t have happened, it should have been prevented and I would say that it shouldn’t happen in the future because it is very bad for the image of Poland,” 31-year-old Warsaw resident Kamila Szczepanska told the Associated Press. “People hear that and they think ‘Okay, this is what is happening here normally and this is our attitude towards Russians’ — it’s not. It is not representative at all.”
Last week at a training session in Warsaw, members of the Netherlands team said they heard monkey chants from Polish fans. During Saturday’s Spain-Italy match, a group of Spanish supporters reportedly made monkey chants at Italy forward Mario Balotelli, and Czech Republic defender Gebre Selassie, whose father is Ethiopian, also said he was the target of racial abuse on Friday. UEFA said it is conducting further investigations into the reported incidents. No incidents have been reported in Ukraine.
“UEFA has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to discriminatory behavior and has given the power to referees to stop matches in case of any repeated racist behavior,” the organization said Friday.