The European Championships are upon us and the journalists of Europe (and the world) are focused on the two host countries of Poland and Ukraine. It all began with the BBC’s Panorama suggesting (and in fact showing) that racism is rife in Ukraine and Poland. I won’t deny it. Yes, it is. More recently, the Netherlands team complained of racial abuse and monkey chants during their training session at Kraków’s Stadion Miejski. This too cannot be denied and must be weeded out. However (there’s always a ‘however’), I am loathe to sit back and watch Poland and Ukraine become the pariahs of Europe just because the anti-racism/PC bandwagon has become particularly en vogue in certain circles. Fighting racism should always be on the agenda but it should not be the agenda. I am no apologist and will never condone racism in any form having been the subject of racism for much of my life, but please, let’s put things into context.
It is also interesting that the politicians of Europe in their infinite wisdom have all decided to gang up on Ukraine and have refused to travel to Europe’s second largest country in outrage at the treatment of Yulia Tymoshenko. Interesting decision. Politicians are often the first to admit that politics and sport should not mix. FIFA and UEFA themselves uphold regulations that do not allow governments to intervene in local federations. Odd that there were no similar boycotts of the Beijing Olympics and politicians of the West flocked to China blindly ignorant of the human rights violations that were taking place. But back to racism as this is what concerns us most. There is racism in Poland. This cannot be denied. By the same token, there have been even more grave manifestations of racism in other European countries recently. In the UK this included the Bradford and Oldham riots of 2001, the death of an Indian sailor in Scotland in 2009 as well as the London riot in the summer of 2011 which was believed to have been started by (institutionalised police) racism.
In France, this included the outrageous racism displayed towards Romani people when they were forcibly deported from France in 2010. More recently, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party of Greece gained 21 seats (!) in the last Greek parliamentary elections. The party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris is wanted for assaulting a female politician (live on TV). As we can see, this is not a Polish problem but a deep-seated European problem compounded by the economic crisis. Hardship, poverty and ignorance fan the flames of racism, fascism and intolerance. Poland had over fifty years of communist seclusion and racial homogeneity. Hardly an excuse but it means that foreigners are still a novelty. It will take time but everyone needs to join in and help. It wasn’t that long ago – I can recall football matches that I went to in the 1990s in England – where monkey chants were a regular occurrence rather than an abhorrent exception. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Any takers?