“The more Ukrainians that play in the national league, the more examples for the young generation. Let them learn from Shevchenko or Blokhin and not from some zumba-bumba whom they took off a tree, gave him two bananas and now he plays in the Ukrainian League”
Oleg Blokhin, Ukranian national team manager, February 2006.
This week, the BBC broadcast its bi-annual scaremongering documentary, highlighting how awful aspects of the host country are. In 2010 it was about South Africa’s high murder rate, yet no football fans were killed during the tournament. Predictably, there was no follow up programme to highlight the dangers still posed to the people living in the country. It seemed as if, once the England fans were out of the country, the killings could continue.
Panorama spent one month in Poland and Ukraine, exposing reprehensible levels of fascism and racism within football stadiums. We were exposed to anti-Semitic chanting, Nazi salutes, monkey noises at black players, and running battles with the police. This was in Poland alone. Jonathan Ornstein, from Krakow’s Jewish cultural centre, argued that, whilst the majority of people within Poland are respectful, football hooligans have yet to catch up. He goes on to quite rightly state that anti-Jewish graffiti round the city is embarrassing to the whole country.
The first problem with the BBC documentary rests here. Football hooligans are often a far separate breed from the rest of society. They play upon being an outsider, often wrapped up in archaic, repulsive beliefs. By adopting the same logic, England should never have been awarded Euro 96, because at the time they were appointed as hosts racism and fascism were still prevalent on the terraces. Can you castigate the majority of disgusting actions of a minority? Furthermore, the ‘he who doesn’t jump is a Jew’ chant was also infamously uttered by Feyenoord’s Ulrich van Gobbel, months before the start of Euro 2000. The Netherlands have a lesser problem than Poland, with Ajax fans being labelled ‘Jews’ as a term of abuse.
Uefa are arguably the problem. In the space of a week in March of this year, European football’s governing body fined FC Porto £16,000 for the racist chants aimed at Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli by sections of their support. In contrast, Manchester City were fined £25,000 for entering the field of play sixty seconds late. Whilst we have a hierarchy that adopts a feeble approach to racism within football, the racist sub-species will see this as somehow legitimising their actions. Michel Platini declining to be interviewed by Panorama raises a further concern. Compliance is in many ways as bad as the initial acts, especially when in a position to educate.
Ukraine, at least based upon the Panorama footage, was far worse. Depicted as a land in which racism was viciously engrained within the fabric of footballing society, should it have been given the right to co-host Euro 2012? On the basis of the BBC coverage, then no. Having young children laugh at the black players, de-humanising them with their monkey noises, is more sad than shocking.
Again it boils down to education. They are learning from those around them, replicating the racist traits from the older supporters around them. In 2012, no member of any society should be forced to be abused based upon skin colour. The opening quote from the Ukraine manager may suggest that Ukraine’s crisis isn’t confined to fascist hooligans, but is entrenched within the repugnant core of society. Violent and unprovoked attacks on Asian students watching a game in Kharkiv, as the police limply watched, with an FA unable to reveal if action had been taken against the club, simply fortifies the conception of Ukraine being completely unfit to host Europe’s premier international competition.
But, what was the intention behind the documentary? Sadly, it seems as if the whole premise was to warn England supporters. When Euro 2012 has concluded, will the BBC be remotely concerned that Asian students are being attacked inside football stadiums and that white power slogans are appearing on the streets of Poland? The concern does not dissipate when the majority of eyes look elsewhere. Will the BBC move onto warning those thinking of travelling to London for the Olympics that we have a growing Islamophobic group in the EDL dragging their knuckles across city centres every weekend?
It simply is not good enough to highlight such a serious concern but to never follow it up. In all probability, football supporters will be safe within the stadiums, and will the media be converging in the bars of Donetsk and Gdansk late at night, waiting to see racist attacks? Spending one month in the host countries in order to make a thirty minute documentary does appear questionable, however horrifying the eventual footage was. Racism needs to be eradicated, not conveniently glossed over when the eyes of the world are watching. From a footballing perspective, Uefa needs to wake up and educate. Until then, Europe’s shame will continue to be exposed.