EURO 2012 - A Tournament Marred By Racism And Violence


The ongoing EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine has brought to the fore again, the issue of racist attacks on black players and football hooliganism in Europe. It was a time bomb always going to explode. Officials, black players and their relations saw it coming- racism, a major scourge in European football would rear its head again in eastern European countries, Poland and Ukraine, co-hosts of the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship.

Former England captain Sol Campbell said the European football governing body, UEFA, should not have chosen both countries as hosts of such a prominent event warning fans to “stay home, watch it on TV… don’t even risk it.” He added that fans might return “in a coffin.”

But Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, said, “Nobody who comes to Poland will be in any danger because of his race.”

Also, former Arsenal player, Oleh Luzhny, denied any acts of racism in Ukraine. “I have never heard any talk about this problem (racism). We have Nigerian football players here and I have never heard about outbreaks of racism,” Luzhny was quoted by Korrespondent.net as saying.

However, we now know who is right after some group games had been played in the competition. Even when UEFA vowed to crack down on racism at the championships, players continued to face abuses from racist fans.

Even before the competition started, black players were given a taste of what to expect during the tournament proper.

Two days to the event’s kick-off, black players in the Dutch squad were subjected to monkey chants from about 500 supporters of Wisla Krakow during open training at the Polish club’s stadium, forcing Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk, to take the players and their equipment to the opposite end of the pitch.

Fans also reportedly made derogatory chants against Czech Republic’s Theodor Gebre Selassie, who has a Czech mother and Ethiopian father, during their opening 4-1 defeat to Russia.

Mario Balotelli was also allegedly racially abused by hundreds of Spanish fans during Italy’s opener against Spain.

Greek photographer Yiannis Kourtoglou, told the Daily Mirror, “The monkey whoops were from the Spanish end. I could not see how many people were involved but they were clear.

“They (chants) were designed to put him off his game and they clearly worked – he had a terrible match. It was terrible for him and for me as well. He is a human being not a monkey.”

The issue of racism in European football has lingered on for ages and there’s a general belief that EURO 2012 is just an offshoot of the problem.

There have been recent racists cases involving several African players like Osaze Odemwingie, Samuel Eto’o, Stéphane M’Bia, Boubacar Kébé, Adebowale Ogungbure, Gerald Asamoah and several others.

EURO 2012 just reminds Nigerian-born Emmanuel Olisadebe of his own experiences when he played for the Poland national team.

Olisadebe, now 34, arrived Poland in 1997 and helped Polonia win their second league championship. Then national team coach Jerzy Engel pushed for the striker to be granted Polish citizenship. He married a Polish woman and was granted the country’s citizenship three years later.

He became the first black player to represent Poland and scored eight goals to help them qualify for the 2002 World Cup, the first time the country appeared at the Mundial in 16 years.

But playing for Poland came with its price. Some fans and fellow players opposed the move to have a Nigeria-born player in the squad. But the protests subsided when Olisadebe started scoring, including the second goal in a 3-0 home victory over Norway that secured Poland’s spot at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

The former Jasper United striker, who helped Veria gain promotion to Greek’s topflight league last season, still remembers vividly incidents of bananas raining down on him from the stands and monkey noises directed his way.

Olisadebe told Bloomberg.com, “At first you feel it’s sad, really sad. Sad like, ‘why do they feel they are different from me?’ It’s not only that you feel ‘I’m different from you’, but you feel ‘I’m less than you.’ It’s difficult to explain in words.”

But Olisadebe would not discourage Africans from joining Polish teams.

“There’s nothing to be scared of. They’ll abuse you, but at the end of the day you know what you want and you work towards it. There are other obstacles along the way other than racism. Racism is just one part of it.”

Despite the negative incidents, there have been unsuccessful efforts to ensure that the competition retains its glamorous outlook.

The Polish government has been battling to curb racist and violent acts with the country’s police reportedly detaining 184 people as at Wednesday following the violence in Warsaw.

UEFA has come down hard on Russia after the 1-1 draw against Poland after clashes broke out in the Polish capital before and after the game between both countries.

Trouble broke out in Warsaw as flag-waving Russians made their way across the Vistula River in a show of patriotism seen as provocative to many Poles.

With sirens blaring and flares exploding, police used water cannons and tear gas to quell disturbances as rival fans clashed ahead of the most provocative match of Euro 2012 so far. Several people lay injured and bleeding and more violence was expected after the match.

The suspended six-point deduction imposed on Russia by UEFA will apply to the qualifying campaign for the Euro 2016 tournament, while Russia’s national football body was also fined 120,000 euros by UEFA. The penalty is in response to “crowd disturbances, the setting off and throwing of fireworks and the display of illicit banners,” UEFA said in a statement.

Mixed reactions have trailed UEFA president Michel Platini’s warning that players will be booked if they walked off the pitch in protest at being racially abused during the tournament.

“I 100 per cent back Platini. A player cannot arbitrarily decide he is receiving racial abuse and walk off,” former England star John Barnes, who suffered racist abuse throughout his career, told BBC Sport.

But Mario Balotelli’s agent Mino Raiola has criticised Platini for his stance and makes it clear the Italy international remains determined to walk off the pitch if he is targeted again after the match against Spain.

Raiola told guardian.co.uk, “… I was very disappointed with what Platini said and a lot of people are with me on that. I can’t say I’m surprised by the reaction, though. I don’t believe Platini has done anything to improve the game or help the position of players – as his reaction to Mario shows.”

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