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.

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