As football’s second biggest international tournament gets into full swing, the underlying whispers of racism are getting louder. During the build-up to this prestigious tournament, the discussion of racism within football in that part of Europe has become an unavoidable in the media.
Questions were asked of Poland and Ukraine’s ability to stage such a massive tournament as soon as it was announced they would receive the privilege of doing so, aside from the more conventional problems the two host countries would have to deal with such as transportation issues for fans, the quality of the stadia, and other such things that to all credit to the two countries they have remedied very well. However, the more sensitive issue which is not as easy to find a solution for is the way racism is tolerated in Eastern Europe.
The culture of football in that part of the world in reminiscent to how it was in Britain the 80′s, hooliganism is still an issue that needs serious attention, and casual racism towards black players and foreign fans is almost commonplace. This is not helped by the minimal punishments handed out by the individual clubs to the offending fans, or by the respective FA’s handing out ridiculous fines such as the mere £2,000 Zenit St. Petersburg where hit with for racist chants from their fans. You wonder what kind of message this sends out to the world and just how serious the governing bodies in football in these parts are taking this sickening crime.
though spokesmen for Poland and Ukraine have come out and publically denied any allegations that racist abuse is any more worse there than anywhere else in Europe, a recent Panorama documentary brought to UK television viewers the severity of the incidents taking place on Poland and Ukraine’s streets and in their own grounds. One outstanding piece of footage was the barbaric attacks on a group of innocent Asian students at the Mentalist stadium in Kharkiv, one of the four Ukrainian cities to host the Euro’s. Other such incidents such as monkey chants, banana throwing at coloured player and physical abuse towards other foreign fans have only served to heighten the notoriety of the gangs ruling the terraces. These incidents have prompted the monumental decision for families of black England players NOT to travel and watch their sons/brothers/nephews represent their country. When action as drastic as this is being taken by relatives of players in action at the tournament, there cannot be many other bigger signs that there is a serious epidemic in Poland and Ukraine that needs to be eradicated.
Of course, it must also be stressed that it is not every single football fan in Eastern Europe is a racist hooligan. as it was in Britan when hooligan and racism within football was rife, it is only a minority if fans who see fit to tarnish the reputation of “the beautiful game” many other sensible minded football supports and locals in Poland and the Ukraine have called for stronger punishments for these thugs, worried that it will have a derogatory effect on their respective countries attempts to move forward in the footballing world. One reason for this cancer of racism on the lungs of Poland and Ukraine, which must not be confused with an excuse, is the fact that there simply isn’t a high foreign population in that part of Europe. Unlike the multicultural society we enjoy in the UK, Eastern Europe is still relatively unexposed to any major influx of foreign immigrants, which in turn means any that do travel or reside in those countries re treated with suspicion and often confronted with violence.
Though this is not an issue that can be solved overnight, the governing bodies in Poland and the Ukraine need to wake up and address these matters, as they are clearly something that will not go away. And the more it is ignored, the bigger the problem will get.
Football is all about looking to the future in Western Europe. So why should it be left in the past in Eastern Europe?