Fears are growing about entrenched violence, racism and anti-Semitism in Poland and Ukraine, co-hosts of the Euro 2012 football tournament. When I heard that BBC’s Panorama investigation programme would show a report on the subject, entitled ‘Stadiums of Hate’, I watched it with astute interest. After so much suffering, neglect and deprivation, I was absolutely thrilled when Poland and Ukraine were named as co-hosts for the event in 2007. Ukraine has progressed strongly in the last decade and Poland has made great strides since joining the European Union. It’s about time that football-mad Eastern Europe had a chance to host the European Championship. As happy as I was, however, there was always some doubt and fear in my mind based on my own personal experiences in Poland.
The BBC documentary only added to my fears. It seems to have added to everybody else’s fears as well, with a deluge of articles and reactions appearing all over the Internet. I did find the documentary shocking, with multiple examples of violence, racism and anti-Semitism in stadiums throughout the host nations. Former England defender Sol Campbell was interviewed on the programme, expressing his disgust. He even went as far as advising supporters not to travel and that those who did could well come back in a coffin. Is that an over reaction?
It is possible that Panorama displayed a certain amount of selectivity in the clips shown. Nevertheless, the core message was conveyed effectively and unmistakably. Hostile crowds, Nazi salutes, anti-Semitism, monkey chanting occurred whenever black players touched the ball. All of this culminated in a ferocious unprovoked attack on Asian students in Kharkiv’s Metalist stadium. Italian striker, Mario Balotelli reacted fiercely, vowing to kill any supporter who dares throw a banana skin at him, either on the street or the football pitch. After watching Panorama’s footage, Sol Campbell said he believed awarding the tournament to Poland and Ukraine was a big mistake. On the other hand, UEFA, European football’s governing body, stated that hosting the tournament in these nations would provide an opportunity to tackle social problems like racism and hooliganism.
Polish and Ukrainian authorities moved quickly to limit the fallout from the Panorama programme. According to CNN, an official from the Polish Foreign Ministry described the programme as cheap journalism, going on to explain that 500,000 British tourists visit the country every year without one single complaint of racism. The Guardian reported that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry labelled the reports a dream, a mythical problem. He also stated that Western countries have a much greater problem with racism. The English football team are taking the reports seriously however, with the families of two black players from the English team refusing to travel to the tournament.