This is a cross-post from the Huffington Post:
Now that the dust has long since settled from the Euro 2012 championships it is perhaps a chance to review the successes and failures of the tournament, not on the field but rather in terms of tackling the incidents of racism and antisemitism which I had been forecasting for many months.
Many will have seen my warnings in the run up to the games, or the fears of violence documented by the BBC Panorama team in their ‘Stadiums of hate’ programme which included Hitler salutes, monkey-noises, violent attacks on south-asian fans and the admission by Sol Campbell that his family would be avoiding the tournament altogether.
First, it is worth congratulating the English FA. Despite my early concerns, they proved to be well organised and communicative about their plans. They liaised with the appropriate experts and many will have seen the successful visit they undertook with England players to Aushwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust. It is to their credit that educational materials will be produced so that the impact of that day on the players might be used to inspire children to stand up against antisemitism and other forms of racism.
Our FA’s behaviour might be a credit to English football in this case, but it clearly was not an inspiration for some foreign teams and their players. A quick online search reveals a plethora of horrifying incidents which should have UEFA and FIFA worried indeed.
There was the inter-national violence I had specifically predicted, between Russian and Polish fans who clashed during an authorised march by the fans to mark a national day of liberation. At least 120 people were arrested and 10 people were injured. This could have been avoided had the authorities been properly prepared.
Perhaps the most high profile incident of racism took place in Krakow during the Netherlands training session. Dutch captain Mark Van Bommel was outraged by monkey chants directed at black players forcing the team to move their training. Quite incredibly the Dutch FA laid the blame on dispossessed Krakow fans, leading Van Bommel to criticise his own FA for ignoring the problem. UEFA, initially slow to react did at least put out a public statement, all be it mealy mouthed and non-committal.
That was sadly not the only time racial abuse was levelled at black players. Within days, monkey chants had been directed by Russians at the Czech Republic’s sole black player, Theodor Gebre Selassie and at Italy’s Balotelli by Spanish and Croatian fans. The Russian Football Union and the Croatian FA were charged by UEFA for the racist chanting and after several days the Royal Spanish Football Federation was also fined.
Again, such behaviour was sadly all too predictable. The anti-racism efforts of UEFA were woefully underfunded, the warnings unheeded and the fines ultimately insufficient. UEFA President Platini placed ultimate trust and authority in the referees, dismissed specific examples of racism in Ukraine and Poland as part of a general rise in racism and went on to threaten bookings for any player that walked off the pitch should they find themselves the victim of racist abuse. This threat was later downplayed by both the Premier League referees and Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) highlighting a shocking lack of co-ordination in the approach to tackling discrimination.
My visits to Poland, Ukraine and UEFA headquarters proved only that no-one was prepared to listen. The most I got from UEFA, despite giving them precise warning about particular teams, games and off-field trouble was a plastic bag and a t-shirt.
UEFA can no longer pass the buck. The fines should be increased and teams should be banned from playing if their fans are consistently racially abusive. I am seeking a meeting with Brazilian, Qatari and FIFA officials to try and ensure they do not fall down where UEFA have. This problem is not going away. To tackle it needs serious planning and action. Unless football’s governing bodies urgently review their procedures the beautiful game will continue to be ugly.