Opinion: Why I won’t be watching Euro 2012

I know for many years that there has been the debate as to whether sport should be brought into politics and am old enough to remember when there was a boycott against the South African apartheid regime.

Watching BBC Panorama last week brought up feelings of disgust, horror, anger and a sense of déjà vu. Had we entered some time vortex back to the 70’s where these chants were all too common on the terraces here in the UK?

It was made worse when the interviewer asked the police chief about what he had witnessed and filmed only minutes earlier to be given a robotic “We don’t have any racism here” reply. It showed a country not used to being questioned by a free press – something we should be proud of despite the Leveson enquiry.

What saddened me is that the families of the players who have taken the decision not to travel out of fear. They should be celebrating their pride in watching their son (in this tournament) play for their country. There is no greater honour.

Racism is never good and can be thinly disguised by the words nationalism and patriotism. Unfortunately, I do believe that there is and will always be a low level racism in every country. The level increases inversely in proportion to the performance of the economy. This has been evidenced in France by the Front National and the term ‘français du souche’ or French to the roots. The Front National took 18- 20% of the vote while in Greece the Golden Dawn party took 6.97% of the vote or 21 seats beating the Democratic Left who took 6.1% or 19 seats.

While there were many comments made on the social media networks about how disgusted everyone was, I only got questions when I said I wasn’t going to watch the championship and suggested that others do the same.

They could see that not going to the tournament would deprive the Ukrainian and Polish countries of the tourism money which might send a signal to the governments to do something about it but they couldn’t see the problem with watching it on TV. However, I am as disgusted by the organisation who decided to award such a prestigious tournament to these countries as to what is going on there.

EUFA’s argument, that by having the tournament there would  highlight the problem, is weak. They could have easily achieved this by not awarding it to them and telling everyone why.

So, I’m not going to watch the games which will deprive them the chance of getting the sponsors’ messages to me. I’m only one for the moment but if there were enough of us then it may have an effect. Politics should be kept out of sport in general but we are members of a political party and we should be making a stand.

* Steve joined the East Devon Liberal Democrats after returning from an 11 year adventure in France.

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  • I take an almost polar opposite view whilst sharing the feelings of the author. We would not know of this level of racist behaviour had it not been for the Euro’s yet thousands go to Poland on holiday every year. By having the level of coverage they are going to get, there will be no hiding any poor behaviour. I will be watching, and if there are any issues I will be lobbying my MP and the FA to ask for the associations to be punished, and if possible excluded from competition until they address their issues as we have been doing since the sorry days of the 80’s.

  • Worth reading this Economist article – http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2012/06/ugly-spectre?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/euro2010overshadowed Suggests the BBC programme was selective in its reporting, exaggerated the problem and misrepresented at least one of the interviewees.

    I also think we can be a little holier-than-thou on the issue of racism/anti-Semitism. Following Spurs, who are often seen as a “Jewish” team, I have witnessed opposing fans giving Nazi salutes and frequently heard hissing (done to replicate the noise of the gas chambers). I have also seen videos of an other clubs fans singing “I’d rather be a paki than a jew” in full view of stewards and police during half-time at a game against Spurs. There is still some way to go in sorting out problems in English football and i think we need to be careful before we start trying to take the moral high ground.

  • “EUFA’s argument, that by having the tournament there would highlight the problem, is weak. They could have easily achieved this by not awarding it to them and telling everyone why.”

    It seems a key reason England didn’t get the 2018 World Cup was because of the unrelenting negativity our press threw at FIFA. Not getting the World Cup (and by ‘not’, I mean getting a dismal response from FIFA at the bid) didn’t shine a light on our jingoistic media. So I’m curious as to how this logic works.

    We need to be careful about the double standards: are we sure Panorama couldn’t, if they wanted, show racist or homophobic abuse falling from English terraces? England’s captain is awaiting trial for racially abusing a fellow player. The England captain before him (or before him, I’m losing track) tosses homophobic language around on national radio.

    I’m playing Devil’s Advocate to an extent: clearly UEFA’s punishment for national federations who’s fans routinely throw racist abuse at players is derisory. The ingrained anti-Semitism on display was ugly and worrying. And the actions of the ignorant in England do not make the actions of the ignorant in Poland and Ukraine any less unacceptable.

    But it’s entirely possible UEFA might be right in that the desire not to face embarrassment on a national scale forces both Poland and Ukraine to confront racism in a way it never would have done otherwise. What you’re advocating punishes the silent majority because of a vocal minority.

    Euro 96 helped transform the culture of football support in England because racism thrives in isolation. It helped allow footballs silent majority (and Nick Hornsby) to squeeze what was unacceptable and prevalent in English football out of our game.

    We should allow others to do the same. The last thing Eastern Europe’s racists want are foreign hordes arriving en masse on Friday.

  • Paul Murray 6th Jun '12 - 5:47pm

    I’m a Fulham season ticket holder and during our recent, intermittently magnificent Europa League adventures we have entertained teams from both Poland and Ukraine. It was noticeable that our man with the tannoy – David “Diddy” Hamilton (yes, the DJ from TOTP in the ’70’s) – used a text that sternly instructed the away supporters that FFC would “not tolerate racist abuse”. I am sure that this was a standard UEFA announcement.

    My personal view of UEFA is such that if I were to express it here then my comment would be pulled for moderation. I’m sure you get the drift. Ditto with FIFA. Sepp Blatter’s response to concerns about the safety of gay men travelling to Qatar for the proposed 2022 tournament was frankly outrageous. I’m sure that the living and working conditions of the Qatari “guest” construction workers will make at least 2 Panorama specials.

    But can we simply decide not to host major events in countries that behave in ways we don’t like? Who are “we”? What are those “ways”?

  • Steve Walsh 6th Jun '12 - 8:10pm

    Thank you for your comments so far.

    I hope that the tournament is a great success and I take the point that the spotlight will be upon the Ukraine and Poland. I also agree that there is a long way to go in the UK, Ireland where I hail from and, in all honesty, everywhere. I read the article Paul suggested and maybe the BBC were ‘selective’ and grouped the two countries together.

    There is a problem and in reality, it is a question of how far down the road to reform we are and whether we continue to move in a forwardly direction. I do believe that the general outrage which was shown after the program is a measure of how far we have come.

    ‘”It seems a key reason England didn’t get the 2018 World Cup was because of the unrelenting negativity our press threw at FIFA. Not getting the World Cup (and by ‘not’, I mean getting a dismal response from FIFA at the bid) didn’t shine a light on our jingoistic media. So I’m curious as to how this logic works”

    How open were FIFA about the actual reason? It was all surrounded by mystery when England had apparently the best technical and commercial bid. If they want to say something about the media and how jingoistic it was then they should have said it. This is the problem with these organisations and at whom I am directing my protest. We need transparancy which is and will continue to be an uphill battle. Unfortunately where big money resides temptation and corruption live just around the corner.

    I also question Mr Blatter being the right person to lead FIFA which, although a story for another time, is part of this. His comments are outrageous and he seems to get away with it.

    My protest might seem ineffectual but sponsors are spooked by uncertainty. It doesn’t take much for them to withdraw e.g. Tiger Woods . Once FIFA and UEFA see the money reduce they take action.

    On a positive note, I must add that I have been to Poland twice. It is a beautiful country and people were very friendly and inquisitive. If you are going have a great time and be safe. If you’re watching at home enjoy.



  • Richard Swales 7th Jun '12 - 9:42pm

    I lived in Krakow for 6 months in 2004 , and for all the time I was there the wall of the old town where the tram crossed the Vistula had a huge piece of graffitti reading “Jebac zydow” – this was within walking distance of the site of the Plaszow concentration camp but nobody cleared it off. During that time (although this apparently not a typical period) about six or seven people were killed in “fights” (also one person being attacked by a group) between the fans of the town’s two teams. All the buses were plastered with stickers for rival groups of fans, but I never saw anyone kicking a ball about in the street – football seeming to be of interest only as a good pretext for fighting. My view on this is that there are going to be some big fights this month, and England fans, who still have a reputation abroad, are going to be targeted.

    Having said all that I find it hard to see how we can say that Poland shouldn’t have a major sporting event because of the behaviour of some of its citizens, but China can have the Olympics despite the behaviour of its government. Isn’t the difference just that Poland is easier to push around?

  • Jonathan Hunt 8th Jun '12 - 10:47pm

    As a football obsessive, with season tickets at two London clubs (Dulwich Hamlet and Arsenal, since you ask) I have been getting in the beer and lozenges, dusting down the modest St George’s flag and preparing to spend hours shouting at the telly in support of England.

    But some things are more important. Fighting racism and injustice are high among them.

    So well done Sol Campbell for speaking out against the FA’s decision to ban Rio Ferdinand. And threatening to return your 83 caps. For an England team should represent our values and principles as a nation, in which justice, fairness and fighting racism rank high.

    This England campaign, tainted by racism, clearly does not share the qualities of tolerance and fair play we hold dear.

    We were warned about racism in the Ukraine, and to a lesser extent in Poland. But clearly, with the FA’s insiduous record at leaving out England’s most talented, cultivated and skilful centre-back since Bobby Moore, racism seems starts at home. Rio has, sadly, been playing with his old brilliance for Man U. Rio and Anton Ferdinand are both great role models for young people.

    They grew up in a rough estate in my former ward as a councillor, and both are exceedingly generous of their time and money in helping young people in a deprived area. Anton came to my son’s school for 30 minutes and spend all morning talking to the kids.

    The whole affair is reminescent of the case of Basil D’Oliveria, a Cape coloured crickter, who inconveniently scored a brilliant, match-winning century three days before the MCC picked their team to go to South Africa in apartheid days. Public outcry forced the insensitive old buffers to give in.

    The FA, perhaps the mosr predujiced and incompetent body in the country, has cocked-up and diluted enthusiasm for our team. I shall watch with semi-detachment, and fear that it will be the most tedious team in the tournament. We trust that the cream of European football will entertain us instead.

    The first test may come on Monday, when there will be at least a dozen black players on the field for England and France. My prediction: The thugs will run out of bananas.

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