Racism, rather than Ronaldo and Ribery, dominates Euro 2012 storylines
The families of England's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, left, and Theo Walcott will not be attending Euro 2012 for fear of racism.
June 7th, 2012
03:09 PM ET

Racism, rather than Ronaldo and Ribery, dominates Euro 2012 storylines

The UEFA European Football Championship is second only to the World Cup in size and prestige, and it's equally rich in storylines. But right now, one storyline seems to overwhelm all others.

The story today is not whether Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo can shake his reputation as Europe's Lebron James, a man who wows fans all season only to choke in big games. Nor is the story about whether defending champion Spain can defend the title without two of its biggest stars. It's also not about how Franck Ribery and the French squad can rebound from an embarrassing, soap opera-esque campaign in the 2010 World Cup.

Heck, the media aren't even paying that much attention to German coach Joachim Low's promise to break world soccer protocol by allowing his team to smoke, drink booze and have sex during the tournament. That would normally be prime tabloid fodder.

Nope, the story today is about racism, especially within the stadiums of Poland and Ukraine, which are jointly hosting the Euro 2012 tournament beginning Friday. The day before the competition began, the Dutch national team opted to train on the opposite side of its training ground at Stadion Miejski in Warsaw because of racist chants, Dutch captain Mark van Bommel said Thursday.

And while a recent BBC investigation showed several instances of bigotry and racism at club games there - some of them violent - Polish and Ukrainian officials are insisting their countries have been misrepresented.

"There is a problem with racism and anti-Semitism in Poland, but it is blown out of every possible proportion in this material," Marcin Bosacki, Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman, said of the BBC documentary. "We are hospitable and treat all people who come here as friends."

Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK Volodymyr Khandogiy also defended his country, saying, "Ukraine is very well known for its tolerance and it has a long history of living together with other nationalities. In our national football championship, roughly half of all the players are from Asian, African and Brazilian countries."

Regardless, many players and former players are speaking out, and English police issued a warning to fans after the Ukrainian neo-Nazi group Donetsk Company threatened to attack black and Asian English supporters during the tournament, Sky Sports News reported.

The families of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, black English internationals who play for London's Arsenal, have said they will not attend the tournament because they fear becoming victims. Former English captain Sol Campbell, in the BBC documentary, warned his countrymen to stay out of the host countries.

"Stay at home. Watch it on TV. Don't even risk it because you could end up coming back in a coffin," he told a reporter.

Italian international Mario Balotelli threatened to walk off the field if he was the target of racism during the game. He had some pointed words for anyone who might hurl a banana at him - an expression of bigotry in Europe that has been all too common at soccer matches in the past.

“If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to prison because I will kill him," he told Football France. "Racism is unacceptable to me, I cannot bear it. I hope there will not be a problem at the Euros because if it does happen, I would straight away leave the pitch and go home. ... We are in 2012. It can't happen.”

UEFA President Michel Platini responded by saying that any player who walks off the field during a game will get a yellow card (if a player receives two yellow cards in a game, he can be ejected). If a player is subjected to racial abuse, Platini said, he should report it to the referee who will have the authority to stop or even abandon the game.

"We will certainly support the referee if he decided to stop the game, but it's not a player, Mr. Balotelli, who's in charge of refereeing. It's the referee who takes these decisions," Platini said. "So, the referee has been given advice and he can stop the game if there are problems."

Anti-racism advocates say they appreciate UEFA's stance, and Piara Powar, executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe, told Reuters after Platini's news conference, "There is no question we are more worried about racism at this tournament than at any other and it is good to know that Mr. Platini understands what is going on."

The group will have 31 independent monitors - with two at each match - looking for evidence of racism, both obvious and nuanced, and will report any "right-wing banners and insignia, and discriminatory chants" they see or hear in the stands. They will also observe online fan networks prior to matches to determine if incidents are being planned, according to UEFA.

Fans will also be encouraged to help monitor behavior, as UEFA will have a dedicated hotline to report racism as well as an online form, both of which will be publicized outside of stadiums prior to matches, UEFA says.

"The UEFA system is three strikes and you are out," Powar told Reuters. "A fine, then another fine, then forcing teams to play behind closed doors. If the system is in full effect we could have a team kicked out of the competition for far right banners."

After the 2008 Euros, UEFA fined the Croatian national team almost $21,000 for racist banners and chants during their Turkey game.

While Platini has said he can't predict what will happen once you pack tens of thousands of fans into Polish and Ukrainian stadiums, he doesn't think either country presents an exceptional case of racism. It's more a microcosm of the bigotry around the globe, he said.

"I don't think there's any more racism in Poland and Ukraine than in France or anywhere else, or even in England," he said. "It's not a footballing problem. It's a problem for society but we will try our best to regulate the problem in our football."

There have definitely been instances of racism in soccer across Europe for years. John Terry, a defender for the English club, Chelsea, faces a racism trial for allegedly uttering a racist slur at Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers in October.

Liverpool's Luis Suarez was fined more than $60,000 and suspended eight games after England's governing football body found him guilty of hurling racist epithets at Manchester United and French international defender Patrice Evra, also in October.

England is not alone. In the last six or seven years, black players in France, Russia, Germany, Spain, Slovakia, Sweden and Scotland have reported fans accosting them with monkey chants. Spanish club Real Madrid was fined in 2009 after its fans made fascist gestures and shouted slogans about "the gas chamber." In 2005, then-Spanish coach Luis Aragones was fined a day's wages after reporters heard him during practice refer to French superstar Thierry Henry as a "black s**t."

Several groups outside the governing bodies of FIFA and UEFA have taken up the cause of racism in football, including Henry's Stand Up Speak Up campaign. The result has been greater awareness and a stark drop in racist instances. Despite this season's Terry and Suarez incidents, Europe has come a long way since the days when fans unabashedly lifted banners in the stands taunting black players.

One hung in the stands by fans of the Italian club, Internazionale in Milan, targeted Ivory Coast and Messina defender Marc Zoro. It famously read, "Peanuts and bananas are the pay for your infamy." During an earlier match against Inter Milan, the abuse became so unbearable, Zoro picked up the ball and threatened to walk off the field.

Yet, even with the strides made in recent years, the controversial documentary that has been denounced by Polish and Ukrainian officials suggests that the headway made in western Europe has yet to make its way east.

In the BBC Panorama episode titled "Stadiums of Hate," reporter Chris Rogers attends club games in the host countries for a month. He encounters fans in Lodz, Poland, making monkey noises at black players and chanting, "Death, death to the Jewish whore." In Warsaw, Rogers stepped off the train to see "White Legion" spray-painted on a wall with a white-power symbol, the Celtic cross, planted between the two words.

In Rzeszow, Poland, a fan held aloft a sign saying, "Death to the Hooked Noses," another shot at Jewish people. In Krakow, fans wore anti-Semitic shirts and attacked police when they couldn't get at opposing fans through a Plexiglas barrier that had been erected in the stadium.

Things seemed just as bad, if not worse, in Ukraine. There were more monkey chants in Kiev, and in Kharkiv, Rogers stunningly found hundreds of men, women and children throwing their hands up in an apparent Nazi salute and chanting, "Sieg heil!" A common greeting in Adolf Hitler's Germany, it means, "Hail, Victory!"

Of the gesture, Volodymyr Kovrygin of the Kharkiv police told Rogers there was no racism at the game and that home fans were merely pointing at the opposing team's supporters.

One of the documentary's most disturbing scenes also came at Kharkiv when home team fans surrounded several Indian students sitting in the stadium's family section and brutally attacked them. The Indians were rooting for the same team as their attackers.

Despite these seemingly indisputable images, the documentary is not without its detractors. Bosacki of the Polish Foreign Ministry called the episode "cheap journalism," while Khandogiy, the Ukrainian ambassador, called it "unbalanced and biased reporting."

"Racism and racial ideology is against the law, and if those young fans were shouting anything close to Nazi slogans they would have been prosecuted," Khandogiy said.

Even one of the documentary's sources - the American-born Jonathan Ornstein, who heads the Jewish Community Center of Krakow - has come forward to say the BBC "exploited" him as a source.

In a statement to The Economist, he wrote, "The organization used me and others to manipulate the serious subject of anti-Semitism for its own sensationalist agenda; in doing so, the BBC has insulted all Polish people and done a disservice to the growing, thriving Jewish community of Poland."

Powar, who heads Football Against Racism in Europe, had a different take: "I think we know the situation in domestic football in both Poland and Ukraine, and I'm afraid the documentary hit the nail on the head - it's a very bad situation,"

He went on to praise the efforts of those working to tamp down bigotry ahead of one of the world's most anticipated sporting events.

"There is some good work going at grass roots level to make sure that Euro 2012 inside stadiums does not resemble the sort of scenes we saw in the documentary," Powar said.

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Filed under: Civil Rights • Europe • Protest • Race • Religion • Soccer • Sports • World
soundoff (415 Responses)
  1. TWilliams

    @Alex, and every single immigrant is coming from South Africa after killing whites right?

    Your Logic truly astonishes me.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  2. CosmicC

    If a team had any class, they would take action on their own if their fans held up racist signs. Just keep scoring own-goals until the signs come down.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  3. Eve

    To: CosmicC
    really Clue # 4 not true? Look and listen... the opinion of nation is not equal to opinion media are projecting though many would love that…

    June 8, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  4. ron faul

    Sounds like the republicans infiltrated europe's version of the deep south.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  5. the.one.who.knows

    cnn is filtering out comments BTW....

    June 8, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Excitizen

      yep – just spent several minutes typing out a comment, hit post and psffft! GONE! But if you want to spew hatred and disgusting remarks – they put them all up!

      June 8, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • J Mo Mo

      No, actually, someone is eliminating unwanted comments.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  6. Eve

    Clue # 6
    Poland was the only country where any help provided to a person of Jewish faith or origin was punishable by death, see Polish Righteous among the Nations. Yet 6,195 men and women (more than from any other country in the world) have been recognized as rescuers by Yad Vashem in Israel.[4][5] Their real life stories of courage are just beginning to be told.[6] Many of the rescuers were women and children; and teenagers.[7] Poland during the Holocaust of World War II was under total enemy control, half of Poland was occupied by the Germans including General Government and Reichskomissariat; the other half by the Soviets, along with the territories of today's Belarus and Ukraine. The list of Polish citizens officially recognised as Righteous include 700 names of those who lost their lives while trying to help their Jewish neighbors.[8] There were also groups, such as the Polish Żegota organization, that took drastic and dangerous steps to rescue victims. Witold Pilecki, a member of Armia Krajowa, the Polish Home Army, organized a resistance movement in Auschwitz from 1940, and Jan Karski tried to spread word of the Holocaust.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Manchester United

      what about denmark?

      June 8, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  7. Freedom Fascist

    They are chanting "Zeig Heil" in Poland and the Ukraine? Funny, I would have thought the chants more appropriate in the United States...

    "Freedom for all the people; brave, true and strong!
    Freedom for all the people, unless we think you are wrong!"

    June 8, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • AlexShch

      I cannot speak for Poland, but can speak for Ukraine - yes they are chanting "Zeig Heil" along with "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Heroes!" It considered not to polite and politically incorrect to mention heroes by names, but lets mention some of them: Roman Shukvevich, Waffen SS Division "Galitchina". However, this has nothing to do with football: those who chant these slogans do not play football, and conversely, those who play football tent to beat those who chant "Zeig Heil".

      The point is that proponents of Western values, Democracy, freedom and blah blah blah use and inspire those who chant "Zeig Heil" whenever they are useful in their anti-Rissian sentiments (here I am talking Yushchenko and with Waffen SS friends), but at the same time, the same BBC journalists point their fingers to the same Waffen SS, Freedom, European Values, Democracy loving guys to accuse Ukraine in racism. The recent BBC movie about racism on stadiums is just manufactured lie designed by blatant hypocrites - this journalist simply took tour into shops and training missions of nationalists from western Ukraine, show various symbols, inc. celtic cross and claimed that they have something to do with being football fans. This is straight lie.

      IGNORE BBC AND ENJOY FOOTBALL!!!

      June 8, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  8. j pauliinzo

    Blacks are the original people the beginning of civilization. All people white, Asian etc originated from blacks. The white man have the weakest genes of all and they are so insecure

    June 8, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • palin support? really?

      it's funny how many times we see the accusers turn out to be the perpetrators!! You're a racist pig, and after that remark, you can't deny that you are racist to your very core!

      Here is the counter to your racist remark!!

      "One might say thats because white people have evolved, while you have not!!

      June 8, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. J_Bird_01

    Bigotry is not a soccer problem, or a Poland/Ukraine problem - it is a problem with the human condition. The best way for the players to deal with it is to ignore it, play hard, and display sportmanship and respect toward each other on and off the field. Comments from the likes of Mario Ballotelli, who himself has a long history of poor behavior toward even his fellow players/team/coaches, only add fuel to the fire. So, players, it's time to put on your big-boy pants and prove yourselves as leaders out on the pitch, because that's your greatest weapon against bigotry. The world is watching you.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Russell

      @J_Bird_01 – Gotta agree. Walking off the pitch plays into the haters' hands. And maybe they'd try it just to get a player off the pitch and give their side the advantage. It's racism and it's an undue emphasis on the importance of the game. I love soccer, but it's still just a game. Some people think of it as a religion and treat games and championships like they were life and death. Play hard, play well, fans support their teams but remember at the end of the day, it's just a game. It's never worth being violent, beligerent, or hateful.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Excitizen

      You guys should watch the piece – we're not talking about harmless taunting – they're doing the nazi salute in the stands by the hundreds with kids with them and they were beating other fans – actually chasing them down in the stands and beating them – of any visible minority! All the while the police and security just watched and eventually tried to pull the victims away – nothing, absolutely NOTHING was done to the haters in the stands!!!! Why would anyone reward that kind of indifference by funnelling millions of dollars of soccer money into a country is beyond understanding. I would never support a sport that stands back and allows such disgusting behaviour! Not one red cent would I spend to support it!

      June 8, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Why

    I am of Cuban descent, but am light-skinned. I cannot go to one of these countries, because I have zero tolerance for racism. I can and would snap someone's neck if they tried to hurt me or my family. I do not play, it's zero to go time at the drop of a hat. I would love to snap some dirty Nazi-necks !

    June 8, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      than look for them in Germany of UK, not in Poland

      June 8, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  11. J Mo Mo

    I am amazed at the goofy history touted on these boards. Do people read?
    Anti-semitism has been a problem for thousands of years. Rome was anti-semitic, Roman Catholic Europe was mostly anti-semitic as was Orthodox Russia. Luther was an anti-Semite to some degree. The Jews wound up in Poland largely because they were unwelcome in Russia and Germany and Poland was neither. They were often persecuted scapegoated and kicked around Europe by other nations and during economic hard times their plight usually gets worse. So all of this now is just more of the same. It is sad. Will we never learn?

    June 8, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Amigo

      Why do people become anti-semitic?

      June 8, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrey

      Poland was a part of Russian Empire – did you know?

      June 8, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Yasmine

    I am a West Indian student and I recently travelled to Poland for a class trip and experienced first hand racism. A man spat in my face at a night club and a women could not use the bathroom stall that I walked out of. People would stare and mumble under their breath as I walked by. As a country that is predominantly white catholic I am not appalled by these occurrences. However Polish officials are in denial if they believe the issue is blown out of proportion. Personally, i have no intentions of returning to Poland unless there is significant change.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  13. J Mo Mo

    And... he mugged you becaues he was black?
    Grow up.
    I think he mugged you because he was a bad guy.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  14. Historian

    @CosmicC: No anti-Semitism or racism in the US during WW2? Hmm… well, how about “Whites only” signs? Isn’t it similar to “Nur fur Deutche” (“Only for Germans”) in occupied Poland? Again, my recommendation to you my friend is study, study and… hopefully you’ll get it…

    June 8, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      Brits are too uneducated to see the point. Whoever believes in that BBC bull sh..t is as dumb as they are!

      June 8, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Syd

    This article took a ridiculously long time to get into the main point that's some rookie journalism.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
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