Think of the soccer’s quadrennial European Championships as the World Cup without Brazil and Argentina but also without the lesser lights. Euro 2012 includes 16 teams — the World Cup offers 32 — and at least 10 have a legitimate chance to make big noise. But the fear exists that Euro 2012, which commences today and runs through July 1, could make its biggest noise by becoming a cauldron of racism.
The event is being jointly hosted by Poland and the Ukraine. This month the BBC aired a Panorama documentary entitled “Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate” that, according to the Guardian, “showed Polish fans chanting anti-Semitic slogans and giving Nazi salutes.” UEFA, the governing body of European football, did the usual UEFA thing by first trying to downplay the report and then making assurances that racism would not be tolerated.
Sol Campbell was more forthcoming. He advised fans to stay away from Euro 2012. “Watch it on TV,” said Campbell, who is black and who was a defender on England’s national team. Then this: “You could end up coming back in a coffin.”
The issue of racism prompted the Italian striker Mario Balotelli, who is black, to offer this admonition: “If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail, because I will kill them.”
Teams began arriving in Poland and the Ukraine this week. At the Netherlands’ practice in Krakow on Thursday, what are being reported as “monkey chants” were directed at two black Dutch players. Mark Van Bommel, the Dutch captain, told the Guardian: “”It is a real disgrace, especially after getting back from Auschwitz [the team had toured the site of the Nazi concentration camp on Wednesday] that you are confronted with this.”
After first suggesting that the crowd at the Dutch practice was merely protesting Krakow’s omission from the list of cities hosting Euro games, UEFA finally acknowledged “some isolated incidents of racist chanting.” (There’s some truth to the rumor that the “E” in UEFA stands for, “Evil? We see none.”)
Meanwhile, the England team is itself facing a race-based furor. Manager (that’s “coach” in European soccer) Roy Hodgson chose not to include longtime Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand in his squad as an emergency replacement for the injured Gary Cahill, choosing instead Liverpool backup Martin Kelly. Hodgson claimed this was for “footballing reasons.” As the Telegraph notes, nobody believed him.
Ferdinand is black. Were he to start for this England team, he’d be paired in central defense with John Terry, who is facing trial for alleged racial insults he hurled at Anton Ferdinand, Rio’s brother, during a Premier League game last season. (The same John Terry was removed as England’s captain — though he remained on the squad — before the 2010 World Cup for having had an affair with a teammate’s girlfriend.)
Ged Grebby, chief executive of Show Racism the Red Card, told Goal.com: “If John Terry was in an ordinary workplace with good trade union policies he would have initially been suspended on full pay and, now that it’s gone to court, suspended to the outcome of the case in July.”
This is truly shameful stuff. And to think: It was once fashionable to call soccer The Beautiful Game.
By Mark Bradley