Racism remains a very real problem in European soccer despite widespread campaigns to quash its presence from the world’s most popular sport.
But from former England national team captain John Terry to Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, instances of on-field racism remain while rabid fanbases too frequently resort to racist chants and taunts to degrade opposing players and their fans. It’s a troubling reality for a sport build on its global appeal — and its one organizers for the upcoming European Championships must be prepared to tackle.
Euro 2012 kicks off in June in Ukraine and Poland — two countries whose soccer fanbases have a reputation for supporting neo-Nazi groups and engaging in blatant acts of hooliganism. And while the tournament’s governing body, UEFA, preaches its commitment to rooting out racism once and for all, it may have set a dangerous precedent with a pair of recent fines.
During a Eurpoa League match between Manchester City and FC Porto, home fans berated City’s Mario Balotelli, who is black, with monkey chants. Six weeks later, UEFA fined FC Porto €20,000 for the chants — which was €10,000 fewer than Manchester City was fined for returning to the pitch “less than 60 seconds late” for the second half.
“The fine does nothing to help UEFA’s reputation in relation to how it tackles discrimination in football,” Herman Ousley, head of the anti-racism group Kick It Out, told CNN.
A recent Daily Telegraph story detailed the visible racism surrounding the stadium of Windzew Lodz, one of the country’s biggest domestic clubs. At a nearby outlet, patrons can purchase scarves and stickers with the motto “Jews forbidden” and T-shirts that read “Burn the Czechs” and “Beat the Greeks.” A store employee quoted in the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza said they stock the items “because they sell well and they’re in demand.”
A video posted on YouTube in Novemeber titled “Polish Hooligans Waiting for You (Euro2012)!!!” shows Polish soccer fans clashing in violent brawls in streets, fields and even on fields. And during a 2011 European match against Hapoel Tel Aviv, Polish team Legia Warszawa unfurled a giant banner with “Jihad Legia” written in Arabic-style lettering.
A study conducted by a Warsaw-based anti-racism group in 2011 found 195 incidents of racism in Polish and Ukranian soccer from September 2009 through March 2011.
“There is a racist culture in many Polish football clubs,” Rafal Pankowski, coordinator in Poland for UEFA’s Respect Diversity Campaign, told the Telegraph. “Racist materials are quite common, and distributed through fan networks and through the internet.”
On Thursday, Polish deputy Interior Minister Michal Deskur said security preparations were moving along and that “complete readiness should be confirmed in mid-May, about three weeks before the first match.”
National police have said they will be cracking down on racism and violence in the lead up to Euro 2012, and all of Europe will be tracking their ability to do so when teams and fans from 16 countries descend on Poland and Ukraine this June.
That is, assuming fans can afford it. Earlier this week, UEFA President Michel Platini railed on “bandits and crooks” in Ukraine for the astronomical hotel room prices many in the country are charging during the tournament. Some hotels are charging 10 times their normal rates while others are canceling previously-made reservations to sell more expensive rooms to incoming tourists.
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