KEIR RADNEDGE in WARSAW: Polish football leaders have insisted that everything possible is being done to minimise the toxic security potential of tomorrow’s Euro 2012 clash between Poland and Russia in Warsaw.
Concerns are high because of scuffles involving Russian fans at the weekend in Wroclaw plus a planned mass march of Russian fans across the Vistula towards the National Stadium – all exacerbated by the coincidence that tomorrow is Russia’s Independence Day and a national holiday back home.
All these factors are coming together against a historical backdrop of intense feeling from Poland’s half a century as a Soviet communist satellite state. The military alliance of that Cold War era was even identified as the Warsaw Pact.
The issue was addressed at a press conference in the National Stadium where the game will be played by Polish federation president Grzegorz Lato and vice-president Adam Olkowicz who is tournament director for the Polish half of the event being shared with Ukraine.
Lato acknowledged the meeting of Poland and Russia as “a very difficult match” while Olkowicz added: “While all political considerations should be left aside . . . I think all the security forces are aware of potential threats so we need to prepared for any kind of scenario.”
Back in the 1970s and 1980s Lato played in a number of high-tension internationals against the old Soviet Union.
Poland and the Soviets were even drawn in the same group at the 1982 World Cup finals. The match was played out against the eruption of the pro-democracy Solidarity movement in the Gdansk shipyards. So fearful were the authorities that transmissions of all Poland’s matches were subject to a five-minute time delay so that pictures of pro-democracy banners could be blacked out.
However Lato insisted that now, as president rather than player, he wanted to avoid mixing talk of politics and sport.
He said: “I played several matches against the Russians, especially in 1982 at the World Cup in Spain when we were in the same group and political aspects were very important at that time. But tomorrow is a sporting event and I don’t like politics to get into this.
“Looking at the context of Poland-Russia relations from the football it’s a difficult enough match. I played against the Russians three times. In the Olympic Games in 1972 we won 2-1 then we lost a game in Volgograd and drew 0-0 at the World Cup finals in Spain when we were in the same group.
“So we are staying away from the politics. We are not interested in those issues created by the mass media. It’s a sports event and should stay that way.”
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