Stadiums of Hate - Why I won't be going to any Euro 2012 matches
Countries that are well known for being dangerous for visible minorities should be pressured to work harder to tackle their social ills rather than be awarded prestigious international sporting events
When I first heard that Euro 2012 was being held in Poland and Ukraine, I immediately ruled out going to any of the matches. Being a member of a visible minority and having had the misfortune of travelling to parts of Eastern Europe, I knew instantly the danger I would be placing myself in. Subsequently, a BBC Panorama investigation, entitled "Stadiums of Hate" which aired last night, has vindicated my instinct.
Eastern Europe is very different to most parts of Western Europe as far as visible minorities are concerned. It’s not just the fact that the people aren’t used to seeing people who look a bit different and nor is it the innocent kind of ignorance that one may encounter in places like rural Portugal. It’s much worse than that. Violent Nazi and Fascist groups are to some extent accepted as part of the social fabric of society, though there are many in the region who are fighting hard to change this, and to whom credit is due.
The Panorama investigation unearthed a disturbing amount of evidence of violent racism in Polish and Ukrainian football. This evidence included: violent racist attacks on Asians fans in stadiums as security officials stood by; monkey chants towards black players from the terraces as well as racist taunts from players on the pitch which referees usually ignore; and Nazi salutes, Nazi paraphernalia and anti-Semitic chants during matches.
The anti-Semitism of many fans in particular seemed entrenched, and the term ‘Jew’ was frequently traded as an insult. During the Lodz derby in Poland, chants from the terraces included ‘Death, death to the Jewish Whore’ and ‘Hey, hey, who’s not jumping is a Jew’. The city itself, which had, by some estimates, as many as 200,000 Jews exterminated during World War II, was also replete with swastikas, white power symbols and racist graffiti.
UEFA claims to have a zero tolerance policy towards racism in football but clearly it doesn’t take the issue seriously enough. It certainly couldn’t have been much of a factor when the decision to award the games to Poland and the Ukraine was made. To add salt to the wounds of visible minority football fans the FIFA 2018 World Cup is being held in Russia which isn’t exactly a country known for welcoming people who aren’t white either. The controversial decision to award the FIFA 2022 World Cup to (55 degrees in the summer) Qatar almost seems tame in comparison.
The BBC programme finished with former England football captain Sol Campbell urging non-white football fans to stay at home and watch the football on the TV rather than risk racist attacks. The families of England footballers, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, have already announced that they will not be travelling to Poland or Ukraine to see the games.
It seems almost self-defeating to host Euro 2012, which, amongst other things, is supposed to be about celebrating of diversity and culture, in countries where the colour of your skin hinders your ability to travel around safely. No country is perfect and I’m not suggesting that every country that wants to host an international sporting tournament should be a beacon of equality and social harmony. However, countries that are well known for being dangerous for visible minorities should be pressured to work harder to tackle their social ills rather than awarded prestigious international sporting events.
What makes the situation even worse is the fact that the Polish and Ukrainian officials that were interviewed by the BBC seemed to be in complete denial. I personally feel that they, along with UEFA, treat the subject with a degree of indifference. They view it as a minor irritant and react only when it is raised in the media in order to placate concerned parties. They know full well how deeply entrenched racist attitudes are in parts of their societies and they don’t want them to get in the way of projecting a positive image to the world.
It wasn’t that long ago when England had its fair share of racism in football but we have come a long way in the last 20 years or so. So much so that sometimes it is easy to forget just how bad things are in other parts of Europe, both amongst certain fans and in the minds of many officials.
Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator
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