“Stay at home and watch it on TV” warned former England defender Sol Campbell ahead of Euro 2012. The battle against racism has progressed through the years, from the extremes of slavery, to fascism and apartheid to where we are today. Despite this global progression, the imminent UEFA European Championship’s in Poland and Ukraine have caused widespread concern. When asked whether fans should travel to Eastern Europe to support their team, Campbell replied “No chance. Don’t even risk it, because you could end up coming home in a coffin.”
In the BBC’s ‘Panorama’ investigation into the current state of affairs in the neighbouring countries, they uncovered worrying footage of physical racial abuse, as well as racist chanting in and out of football stadia. UEFA President Michel Platini moved to defend the host nations in a racism-dominated press conference; saying “I don’t think there’s any more racism in Poland and Ukraine than in France or anywhere else, or even in England. It’s not a footballing problem. It’s a problem for society”
Platini’s England comparisons continued in front of a British dominated press room, explaining “There have been problems with violence in the 1970’s in England. They made great strides to change the situation and we need to do work in the field of racism and we need to stop this from happening.”
It’s not only the supporters who face the prospect of discrimination, there have been incidents in the past involving England players; current full back Ashley Cole, amongst others was subject to monkey chanting in a 2004 friendly with Spain. More recently, Brazilian star Roberto Carlos walked off the pitch during a Russian Premier League match between Anzhi Mackhachkala and FC Krylia Sovetov Samara, after a banana was thrown at him on the pitch.
Such incidents have led to threats from potential stars of the tournaments. Italian eccentric Mario Balotelli explained “Racism is unacceptable to me, I cannot bear it. I hope there will not be a problem at the Euros because if it does happen I would straight away leave the pitch and go home”. While some may see Balotelli’s threat as a valid way of combating racism. Platini doesn’t believe it’s the answer. When asked what would happen should Balotelli, or any other player, leave the field of play without permission he explained “It’s a yellow card. We’d certainly support the referee if he decided to stop the game. It’s not a player, (for example) Mr Balotelli, who’s in charge of refereeing. It’s the referee who takes these decisions.”
UEFA Head of Referee’s Pierluigi Collina echoed Platini’s views, saying “Things are clear. Referees have a protocol so they know what they have to do. The match director, who is responsible for each match, knows what has to be done on the field of play.”
England goalkeeper Joe Hart backed officials to make the right decision regarding removing players from the pitch. He told The Guardian “Our advice is to get on with and see how the referee and UEFA deal with it. It’s not for us to do. Hopefully the referee and UEFA will take it into their own hands if that problem does occur. Fingers crossed we won’t have to deal with anything like that. It’s down to the referee; we can’t take the rules into our own hands. If the referee feels it’s right for us to walk off then we’ll follow.”
Former Holland captain Ruud Gullit doesn’t believe players should be punished for making a personal stand against racism, though he accepts this should only happen if officials fail to intervene. “If a player is racially insulted, he should have the right to leave the field. I would like to think we can trust referees to take everyone off but, if the officials are not supporting the players correctly, then the individual should act. The message this would send out: ‘We will not tolerate this abuse’.”
Gullit, who played throughout the 80’s, believes “Players shouldn’t just keep quiet and play on like in my day. When I played I received racial abuse but I was just one of a few black players and we weren’t backed up by the authorities”. He explained to the Daily Mail how he fought back against the racists, “I used to ignore the abuse and felt powerless to change attitudes. My only weapon was my performances on the pitch.”
Despite his methods of dealing with racism, Gullit understands times have changed. “We are beyond that now though. We just have to hope that racism doesn’t haunt this tournament but that, if it does, the response is strong. The players need the support of UEFA and the football authorities need the support of the police.”
Clarke Carlisle, Chairman of Professional Footballers’ Association believes “UEFA need to be front a centre on this topic”. Carlisle, an Englishman of Dominican descent, believes there will be incidents of racism, seeing it as “a real test of UEFA’s strength of character and protocol they have put in place to empower their officials to deal with these situations”.
Carlisle has witnessed some of the racism in Krakow while recording a documentary, he expressed his fears of “racist groups using the tournament as a platform to air their political views and shout their bigoted opinions.”
While remaining hopeful “fans have a sense of pride in as much as they want to accept the game in the correct spirit and that they want to show Poland and Ukraine as forward-thinking nations and be inclusive.” Carlisle has seen and heard too much to believe 100% of fans will behave so. He reminisced how “I went to the Krakow-Crakovia derby and I heard the monkey chanting myself, I heard the ‘gas the Jews in the ovens’ chant to the Crakovia fans. It was horrible”. He also recalls his conversation with the chief of police in Krakow, “he said there had been no incidents of racism or hooliganism in the past 14 months in the stadium. Then we went inside the stadium and salf half a dozen and got them on camera.”
Carlisle also questions UEFA’s previous reactions to racist behaviour, explaining “The reason I have reservations about UEFA is because their actions in the past on incidents of this type don’t reflect other actions in the European Game. You see fines being dished out to national associations that are less than those for red cards.
The views of Clark Carlisle seem to be that of the vast majority, should any racism break out, it is down to UEFA to deal with it accordingly, “They need to make sure if anything does arrive it’s dealt with swiftly, efficiently, harshly and uniformly.”