Wednesday 15 August 2012

Final report on racism and violence at Euro 2012

This report was published in Searchlight, No. 445 (August 2012), pp. 30-31.

Racism and violence at Euro 2012
By Anton Shekhovtsov

THE EURO 2012 TOURNAMENT started on 8 June amid fears of racism and hooliganism in Poland and Ukraine. The BBC Panorama programme “Stadiums of Hate” presumably contributed the most to the spread of these fears, with Sol Campbell stating that the two countries did not “deserve these prestigious tournaments” and telling English fans to avoid travelling to Ukraine and Poland “because you could end up coming back in a coffin”. However, a fortnight before the Euro 2012 final, a number of England fans in the Ukrainian city Donetsk carried a coffin painted with a St George’s Cross and the words: “You’re wrong Campbell”. As my observations revealed, Campbell was wrong indeed at least as regards Ukraine, as not one racist incident involving Ukraine fans was reported during the tournament.

Nevertheless, Euro 2012 was not free from violence and racist abuse of players. The first incident took place a day before the official start of the tournament, when the Netherlands’ black players were subjected to monkey chants during their open training session in Krakow, with Dutch captain Mark van Bommel branding the incident “a real disgrace”. On the same day, four Russia fans and two Turks had a brawl in a Warsaw bar and were fined €1,000. Russia fans have turned out to be major troublemakers during the tournament, or more accurately, until their team failed to progress to the semi-finals. On the opening day of Euro 2012, Russia fans attacked Polish stewards at the Wroclaw stadium following their country’s victory over the Czech Republic. It resulted in four guards being hospitalised but they were soon released after receiving first aid. During the match, some Russian fans directed monkey chants at the Czech player of Ethiopian origin, Theo Gebre Selassie. Such an attitude among Russia fans is quite worrying given that the 2018 FIFA World Cup is to be hosted by Russia.

On 9 June, German fans racially abused Portugal players. German supporters also threw screwed up paper at Portugal’s players and let off a smoke bomb in the stands. The next day was even more dramatic, as Poland, Ireland and Croatia fans had a fight in Poznan, four Russia fans smashed a Wroclaw bar, a Croatia fan invaded the pitch while others set off fireworks and threw objects during Croatia’s match against Ireland, and the Italian hero Mario Balotelli was subjected to a tirade of racist abuse from around 300 Spanish fans during Italy’s 1-1 draw with Spain.

Yet, if 10 June was dramatic, day 5 of the tournament was, perhaps, the most gruesome. Several massive fights between Poland and Russia fans took place on 12 June; in the majority of incidents it was Polish hooligans who attacked the Russians. The ugliest fight, however, was partly provoked by Russia fans themselves: in the wake of their country’s match against Poland, thousands of Russians marched on Warsaw’s Poniatowski Bridge to mark Russia Day – an act considered provocative by some Poles whose country endured decades of a Soviet-inspired authoritarian regime. Police were forced to fire warning shots and use water canon to break up the fighting, and more than 180 hooligans from both sides of the conflict were arrested.

Violence declined after day 5, but racism and nationalism persisted. On 14 June, Italy’s Mario Balotelli was again subjected to racist abuse, but this time monkey chanting came from Croatia fans during the 1-1 draw between Italy and Croatia in Poznan. The fact that Balotelli (who was born to Ghanaian immigrants) apparently became the main object of abuse at the tournament once again proves the cowardly nature of racism: Balotelli was one of the best players during Euro 2012, and by monkey chants racists wanted to disturb and unsettle him, but they ultimately failed.

On 16 June, Russia fans “distinguished” themselves again, as they set off and threw fireworks, as well as displaying illicit banners, during their country’s match against Greece. The next day, Germany fans held a neo-Nazi banner during a match against Denmark, while on 18 June racist banners were displayed by Croatia fans at their country’s match against Spain. In each of these cases, UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings. This seemed to have helped, as the level of racism and violence decreased after several countries had been fined by UEFA. On 18 June, Croatian and Polish hooligans clashed in Gdansk ahead of their countries’ match (one Pole was injured in the fight and three Croats were arrested), but no major incident was reported after that. Some England fans vandalised a tree in the centre of Kyiv before the country’s match against Italy on 24 June, but in general they behaved quite reasonably while in Ukraine.

This, unfortunately, cannot be said about the behaviour of approximately 150 English hooligans in Bedford, who – after England had lost to Italy on penalties – decided to work off their bad temper on Italian supporters who had gathered in Russell Park. The English hooligans caused damage to a number of vehicles, but Bedfordshire Police largely managed to prevent them from confronting Italian fans. One person was arrested for assault, while two were held for criminal damage.

Despite the racist and violent incidents in Poland and Ukraine, UEFA president Michel Platini hailed the tournament as a “resounding success” after Euro 2012 ended with Spain’s 4-0 win over Italy in the final.

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