With Euro 2012 starting in just over a week, Panorama’s timely expose on racism in football in Poland and Ukraine will have done much to dissuade England fans thinking about making a last minute trip. That is unless they also happen to be white supremacist skin heads.
UEFA talks a good game regarding “zero tolerance” but in reality despite the high-minded rhetoric their weak history of paltry fines and sanctions have failed to change the deep rooted cultural values in some of Europe’s less “enlightened” countries. And when UEFA chief Michel Platini today warns that any player leaving the pitch because of racist abuse will be booked, you have to wonder where their priority lies.
Reporter Chris Rogers hardly needed to go to Donald Macintyre levels of undercover reporting to expose blatant racism at the stadia – it was unavoidable at every ground he attended.
In Lodz, the 3rd largest city in Poland, RTS Widzew Ultras have such a propensity for violence that at derby games away fans were banned. This didn’t stop the violence kicking off as home supporters just started attacking the police instead.
Once inside the ground they insult their supposedly Jewish founded opposition with anti-semitic chanting and huge banners proclaiming “Death To The Jewish Whore”.
It’s not hard to see why such deplorable views might be popular, when there are huge murals in the town declaring the Jews should go to the gas chamber. And the authorities don’t seem to be in any hurry to cover them up.
But it’s not just opposition fans who are racially abused. Widzew fans are so moronic they even insult their own players. Rogers interviewed two black Widzew players (who really need to sack their agents) Ugo Ukah and Prince Okachi, who confirmed that they are repeatedly subjected to monkey chants during games:
“I just try to ignore it as so many people do it.”
Rogers sees similar anti-Semitic chanting and white power symbolism occurring in the Krakow stadium where rival supporters are separated by Plexiglas. Instead of attacking each other they lash out at stewards and police. At times it’s easy to forget its 2012 and not 1972.
And if you thought Poland was bad, in Ukraine things appear to be even worse. In Kiev a whole section of supporters is filmed barracking a couple of black players with monkey chants, with the kids in the crowd joining in.
At the Metalist Stadium in Karkiv, vast swathes of fans – including a good few women – shout “Zeig Heil” in unison whilst performing a Nazi salute. Rogers puts his concerns to the local police commissioner who flatly denies any charges of racism:
“It’s not a Nazi salute. They were just pointing in the direction of opposition fans.”
The only thing this laughable denial tells you, is there is absolutely no appetite from the powers that be to stop this sort of behaviour.
The most shocking scenes though occur back at the Metalist stadium. Rogers manages to get into the hardcore section of fans and bang on cue a fight erupts just behind him. The camera spots a group of Ultras making a beeline for some Asian supporters who they then proceed to stamp on and punch repeatedly in the face. This all happens in front of police and stewards who stand idly by.
Rogers catches up with the victims of this attack as their injuries are tended to. It turns out they are students studying in the Ukraine who thought they would be safe in the family end, especially as they were supporting the home team.
The fall-out from the programme has seen Sol Campbell’s asset that visiting England fans “will come back in a coffin”, and Mario Balotelli added his own pearls of wisdom to the debate:
“If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail because I will kill them”
Watching the behaviour of fans in these countries, it would be easy to start viewing racism as an issue confined to countries which are politically and socially behind supposedly more developed countries such as the UK. However, even in countries such as Italy and Spain the spectre of racism is rife and the continuing empty gestures by UEFA will do little to change the status quo.
You can watch it here for the foreseeable future.