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. pb

    Shouldn't this be a Fox story? Fox Networks.. because there are scary brown people out there.(tm)

    June 8, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • huh?

      Ridiculous and ignorant comment. This is clearly a liberal media story, since their world revolves around racism. I swear, you libs are getting dumber and dumber each day.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Good one.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • drewsco

      Nah, FOX would only promote the story if there was racism directed at White people. That would be consistent with there agenda.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
  2. Doobie Doobie Doo

    Who cares. Next story please.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  3. mamanas

    I'm just glad that another country besides the USA has the label of being racist. So I guess some of the Euro's need to clean their glass houses too.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  4. tclass11

    Racism has been around since the beginning of man kind and is more a sign of weakness and fear and not strength. No one living on this earth today has ever seen the color of Adam and Eve so, really as a race ask yourself how pure are you.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • QBsince1933

      Good points tclass, but I might also add it's about low self esteem. One feels bad about themself so they bigotry to say they're better then a certain race to make themselves feel better.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
    • suciobeats

      You don't even know if Adam and Eve even existed, so your argument fails.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
    • obsthetimes

      Err?, Where is US sports have you heard monkey chants? I saw the 6 game in Heat vs Celtics last night and there wasn't a Caucasian on the court.
      You're living in some other 'USA'. I know its the country called 'Union of Sad Apologists'

      June 8, 2012 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jimmy_Jam_Jim-Jam

    Racism has always been an issue in European football. It is no bigger there than any other non-superpower nation. The American media will be the end of football as we know it; they will do to it what they have done to their own (NFL), focussing on the bad rather than the good the sport has done.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Jimmyjam048

      Racism is simply a ploy used by low class, barely literate inbreds with low self esteem whose poor attempt of being proud of them selves is not by improving thier lack of morals or ethics but the false belief that merely by birth they are somehow superior to others.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • obsthetimes

      This story wasn't spun by american media. It has been on the BBC and french papers for weeks . This is the first I've read about it on CNN.

      June 8, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. dreamer96

    Sun spots are making us devolve.....Soon we will be barking at the moon, and running the streets at night in packs..
    Hmm Looks like some of us already are I see...

    June 8, 2012 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Euro

      Come to Oakland, CA. It is already being done nightly. Liberal states devolve.

      June 8, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Vincent

    Not really surprising to hear this. The mainland of Europe (particularly eastern europe) seems to have been heading this way for awhile. Its god that awareness of the issue has been raised and pointed out.
    I wonder if Russia will get it out sorted out before they host the World Cup. They still have some time, but this kind of cultural change will be difficult.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  8. Youbetcha

    The Tea Party has gone international

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

      The racism in Europe started long before the Tea Party formed. Also, the Tea Party is not racist. Maybe there are people in the Tea Party that are racist, just as their are racist Democrats, Republicans, etc., but the Tea Party itself does not have a racist agenda. You are stereotyping–and that is disgusting.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
    • pchsbenz

      Youbetcha....that was hilarious! You're going to get me in trouble at work b/c I'm laughing so hard!

      June 8, 2012 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • BigHwasdemo

      Don't forget the democrats invented racism and I have been trying to live that down since signing up to vote, dems are making progress but we invented racism.

      June 8, 2012 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
  9. John Antij

    Journalism in America: Never about the subject. Always about making cheep controversy. This is what happened: BBC aired some program about racist incidents in Poland and Ukraine. Immediately, entire European public and press denounced such journalism as way out of proportion and unfair. The point is hat both Poland and Ukraine is nigher more or less "racist" than the est of the Europe. Americans and those from western Europe should understand that virtually all Poles and Ukrainians DO NOT SEE black around them on daily basis. I know that this is not a justification, but simply some young soccer fans just do not understand what acceptable behavior is (Poland was not a colonial power). American journalism: JUST LOOKING FOR SENSATION. CNN and other American media is no more than CHEEP TABLOID.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
  10. gary

    Time to end pro "sports", international "sports", Olympics, etc. NFL paid to injure, concussions, racism, riots, doping, security problems, Olympics with anti-aircraft missiles, etc. These are not "sports" anymore. And no one can get into these "sports" without huge cash and drugs. Reminds me of the movie, "Rollerball" .... sick.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. ThePROFESS10NAL

    And there is your proof that the polish reveled in the killing of jews in their "POLISH DEATH CAMPS"

    June 8, 2012 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  12. machu

    Not surprising! Ukrainians and poles have long history of racism.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Flipper

      To all of you who make casual accusations of serious guilt. Let me remind you that neither Ukraine nor Poland had established slavery like the US did. In fact, both countries were subject to serfdom (which is really a code word for white slaves). And considering that banana throwing is a fairly well establsihed routine at NHL hockey games in Canada (as recently as this year)–why is the behavior of a handful of hooligans attributed to two countries as a whole? Talk about journalism run amuck!

      June 8, 2012 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
    • BigHwasdemo

      As do the Africans and the Aztecs.

      June 8, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  13. Alex

    Recent studies prove racism is genetic or apart of natural human group behavior (i.e. tribalism). Trying to stop racism is like trying to control human behavior. It just can't be done in the long term - merely suppressed. And if the government tries to influence our behavior in any way then we are on the road to 1984. It's a double edged sword here, folks.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  14. Mark

    It hasn't even started and already this is the topic? Man the media loves race hates stories.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
    • pchsbenz

      If the ugly head of racism didn't exist, they wouldn't have anything to report.

      June 8, 2012 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Euro

      Correction, the liberal media loves imaginary white on black racism stories.

      June 8, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Darkshadow

    We understand your problem, because we have Neo-Nazi groups called the Tea-Party, Klu Klux Klan, and the White Citizens Council.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Herewegoagain

      The Tea Party is a neo-nazi group? Really? How do you figure that? Oh right, all the violence and racist chants at the gatherings...No, wait, that never happened, that was at the Occupier's gatherings. What about the Black Panthers? "We understand your problem"–please get over it.

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