KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— The run-up to the Euro 2012 kickoff next Friday is becoming reminiscent of the approach to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
Firstly, the worries were all about preparations; then it was all about a boycott by European Union politicians; now the fear factor has thrown up issues of racism and hooligan violence.
Concerns emanate from high-profile incidents over the past two years in neighbouring Russia, considered as ‘setting a standard’; from an equivocal attitude towards racist chanting by European federation UEFA; and lastly from a tabloid-style Panorama programme by BBC TV.
Just as with South Africa, hosting officials are growing worried that security fears are keeping visiting fans away. Not only fans, either.
Even before the Panorama programme the families of England’s Arsenal forwards Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had said they would not attend for fear of being racism targets.
Manchester City’s Italy forward Mario Balotelli has said he will walk off the pitch if he is believes he has been racially abused. This could backfire on him. In Italy, while with Inter, Balotelli was regularly put off his game because opposing fans knew they could upset him easily with racist abuse.
Balotelli said: “If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to prison because I will kill him. 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.”
BBC’s Panorama maintained its depressing tradition of running a ‘knocking’ programme on the eve of any major football event by its latest offering. Football is an easy target, after all.
Not that this is to query the veracity of ugly scenes from domestic games including crowds making monkey chants at black players and the targeting of them with foul language and physical threats. Footage was shown of Asian students being attacked at the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv, where three group matches will be staged, along with scenes of fans making Nazi salutes and roaring out anti-Semitic chants.
The former England defender, Sol Campbell, said he thought that racist attitudes meant UEFA had been wrong to take the finals to Ukraine and Poland in the first place.
He said: “What they should say is that ‘if you want this tournament, you sort your problems out’.” He cautioned fans: “Stay at home and watch it on television. Don’t even risk it . . . because you could end up coming back in a coffin.”
That sensationalist view was contested from Ukraine. Veteran striker Andriy Shevchenko said he was unaware of a serious problem and Ukraine’s Euro 2012 director Markian Lubkivsky described Campbell’s remarks as “insolent”. Lubkivsky added: “We are getting ready for a great football festival. From the UEFA point of view, I don’t see any dangers for citizens of different nationalities staying in Ukraine.”
UEFA’s priorities were laid bare by two virtually simultaneous disciplinary decisions.
Manchester City were fined £25,000 because their players were late out for the start of a Europa League second half against Sporting Clube; but racist chanting aimed by Porto fans at City players earned the Portuguese club a fine of only £15,000.
# # #
Also at www.WorldSoccer.com
# # #