Last night Panorama did a program about racism in football stadiums in Eastern Europe in the run-up to to Euro 2012. Various England players are reportedly not bringing their families to the tournaments for fear of racist abuse. After the Sven debacle, I thought we all thought that was happening anyway. No one condones hooliganism or racism. This should be dealt with and yet again its UEFA that is failing to take the lead. After all, it is their tournament. They have consistently failed to chase down clubs with racist chants. Racism is of course a universal evil but UEFA have failed to deal with clubs and leagues with issues. Banning them from the Champions League or Europa Cup would be a simple and financial hurtful punishment. There would be rapid movement after this. But UEFA has acted as slowly here as it does on goalline technology. Platini did complain about the lack of hotel rooms for the France game though! If only it was that simple here.
The program was surprised by violence and politics involved in tribalism. The use of anti-semitic language (ie. calling each other jews as an insult) is hardly a surprise. I rememeber being at a Sunderland game a five years ago when the Sunderland fans sung against Spurs that ‘at least they have a foreskin.’ No arrests made. I’ve also heard the word gay or homo thrown as an insult around in every public place. Football is a tribal, generally lower-class game. Tickets for the games in Sarajevo and Belgrade were less than 10 euros, 2.5 euros in Sarajevo. I should add I never saw anything beyond the usual celebration of tribe and giggling about serious violence which in itself seemed stupid).
Europe with its ethnic issues is far behind in understanding racial issues. Eastern Europe after its shock economics (thanks Sachs!) and a loss of leadership amongst modern leaders is even further back. In Western Europe, it might be the colonial mind-set still in play. In which case, its racist. But in Eastern Europe, it is the vacuum of political leadership, a lack of jobs, a loss of direction for young men all to be filled by ignorance and resentment.
One of the reason Dalglish was fired was for misunderstanding American senstivity to race issues. Backing Luis Suarez when he failed to shake the hand of Patrice Evra after calling him ‘black’ 8 times in 2 minutes was a huge, personal statement but for Dalglish to support Suarez after the game revealed his understanding was as dated as his tactics. And yes, the countries, Poland and Ukraine, should have dealt with this issue or made to by UEFA rules. Turkey which has had some problems in the past is now moving on the issue. The Turkish FA recently banned Emre, one of its star players, for two games for racist abuse to Zokora.
However, my issue with the program is it openly defines the nation. The story was sensationalised and tars Poland and Ukraine as places other people can’t go. Some of the comments on blogs convey how disgusted they are by these countries. This is a mistake. Most people in Polannd and the Ukraine will be embarrassed by all this. The strength of the program might be to embarrass. some of the scenes were shocking and dsiturbing. However ideas the nation is unfit for the tournament are weak. There was little comment on the Olympic Games being given to China in 2008. Or F1’s continuing whoring itself to repressive regimes. Or the celebrating in football or horse racing of despot’s abuse of its countries wealth.
Having lived in Poland I can confess to not seeing a single black person but I did meet numerous other ethnic minorities (especially Vietnamese for some reason. I also however amusingly never met anyone with longer hair than myself for 4 months!). What we see are backwards values by a tiny minority and the polie have failed to enforce laws that exist, possibly for lack of complaint, complicity and/or manpower. Nones of these excuses (rather than reasons) are good enough but they need to be understood.
The media has highlighted a problem, a social evil that ultimately leads to forms of racism. The trajectory of institutionalized racism condoned by the state is well-known especially in a time of economic depression. Take a look back at history and it’s ugly. That is not the case here. We have minority racism in highly-charged, tribal venues that must be highlighted, condemned and stopped. But don’t leave it open that this is condoned by the nation or this defines the nation. There was no attempt to talk to a government minister or UEFA official. Most people there will be embarrassed by all this but angered by the generalisation. It was incomplete journalism, a sensationalist side, something the BBC was meant to avoid.
The media has done great work but in its programming, it has an equal responsibility to be fair to the nations as a whole. UEFA needs to actually understand and tackle social problems that manifest at its games. Poland and the Ukraine need to deal with this stain on its nation rather than seek to contain it or as in Ukraine’s case today deny it. Football might be just a game but that happens on the pitch. What happens off the pitch is for all of us to deal with.