Thursday 31 May 2012

Euro 2012: Racism in Ukraine and Poland

I won't be booking any city breaks to Ukraine anytime soon following last Monday's Panorama programme.

If you didn't see it, they were reporting on various racist and neo-Nazi football hooligans in both Poland and Ukraine.

Anyone who follows European football knows that racism in Eastern Europe is a much bigger problem than here in the UK. There's been more focus on the issue leading up to Euro 2012.

In the last few weeks there's been the high profile reporting that the families of mixed race players Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wouldn't be travelling to Poland and Ukraine due to the dangers of racist attacks.

After watching Panorama's report I don't blame them.

This clip above was shown to former England star Sol Campbell, who shook his head with shock at the scenes and advised black an Asian fans not to bother travelling.

With all this negativity surrounding Ukraine and Poland, why did UEFA award the championships to these countries?

Football's expansion

In awarding the championships to Poland and Ukraine, this was another example of football's expansion into new territories, particularly countries beyond the old Iron Curtain.

Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup.The 2008 Champions league final was held in Moscow and this year's Europa League final between Athletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao took place in Romania.

There's a two way process going on, whereby football's governing bodies are opening the game up to these countries, but at the same time the privilege of holding such international tournaments means those countries have to accept that certain ideals and values have to be embraced.

The racist and xenophobic attitudes that prevail in parts of Eastern Europe have to be tackled if they're going to be allowed to hold international football tournaments like the World Cup and European Championships.

But you have to accept that these countries have totally different political and social histories to the UK and parts of Western Europe; you can't expect them to be on the same page as us when it comes to race relations.

The problem that I can see is that both Ukraine and UEFA haven't demonstrated enough how the problems of racism in Ukrainian society and football are being successfully tackled.

Ukraine hasn't sold its story to the rest of Europe

From Ukraine's point of view, they could do without programmes like the BBC's Panorama being broadcast on the eve of the tournament.

For all the negative stories surrounding football hooligans, racism, and poor ticket sales from foreign fans; I don't think Poland or Ukraine have really sold their story to the rest of Europe.

What do the Euros mean to Ukraine? In Euro 96 there was the 'Football's coming home' theme that dominated the Championship. England's first major tournament since 1966.

In 2008 there was the Beijing Olympics, the chance for China to show the world that it was an emerging global superpower. An opportunity to show the very best China had to offer in a sporting and cultural sense.

Two years later, South Africa held the World Cup. The first time the tournament had been held in Africa. Again this was South Africa's chance to show that after the troubled years of Apartheid, the 'rainbow nation' was now ready to show the world a different side to Africa and South Africa.

What's Ukraine's story?

They've allowed all these negative stories to build up without coming back with their own story or narrative. They haven't explained why the Euro finals are so important for the country or showcased enough the very best that the country has to offer.

There's still time for Ukraine to do something about it. Despite the Panorama programme, I'm used to the media in this country highlighting the worst case scenarios when major sporting events are held outside traditional Western venues. Remember all those negative stories about South Africa in the build up to the 2010 World Cup?

Lets see if Ukraine can change the West's perception over the next month.

Monday 14 May 2012

Man City win Premier League: Who was writing the script?

What an incredible end to the Premier League season yesterday.

After overturning the eight point advantage Man Utd had over them, you thought the hard work had been done by City. Surely beating a QPR side with the worst away record in the Premier League would be the easy bit.

As the minutes ticked down and QPR still 2-1 up, I kept shaking my head saying 'this is unbelievable' How can City possibly lose the title now.

But this is what makes football so fascinating, as you realised that it didn't matter that City have the best squad of players in the League and were unbeaten at home all season - this is a club with failure written into its very DNA!

As the game entered injury time, I wondered if there could be a more humiliating way to lose the title?

There are moments in football where you realise this is your moment. For City those two goals in the injury time was the moment they were no longer a laughing stock, a team constantly having to live in shadow of Man Utd. Their time had finally arrived.

Despite all the millions spent by the club, I'm glad City won the title. They were the best team this season and it's good for the game in England to have a different team winning the Premier League for the first time.

My feelings may change in a few years, if Man City go on to dominate English football - which is a distinct possibility as nobody can really compete with them financially.

Well done City, I'm pleased for the club and their fans. It was also a great day for the Premier League as well. There's a lot of hype that surrounds Premier League football, but yesterday showed why the Premier League is the most exciting league in the world.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Images of Perugia

For a small provincial town, I ended up taking a lot of photos during my time in Perugia. I've put together this slideshow of some of my favourite photos.

Perugia is beautiful. Looking around at the Medieval architecture, you have to remind yourself that you're still in the 21st Century and not the 13th. Sometimes in Italy you can feel like you're in the middle of a real life living museum, but that's one of the things I love most about the country.