In the past week, I’ve seen two tweets regarding the fact that some families of black English players won’t travel to the Ukraine for “fear of racial abuse.”
Both are from journalists who work for mainstream media outlets. Credit to Mayur Bhanji who later tweeted a semi-apology, agreeing that “idiots exist everywhere.”
They are usually followed by a string of responses asking how a major tournament could be hosted in “such a place.” Apparently, the hypocrisy is lost on them, as they generalize an entire country of people for being racists. Also, let’s not forget that the former English captain is on trial for racially abusing another player — perhaps people should not travel to London this August as it could be dangerous for any non-English? We all saw how England is the home of racial harmony and togetherness during last summer’s riots in Tottenham.
This all eludes to a much wider problem which is visible from the English media — that of fear-mongering. Sadly, many people believe what they read or see on television, and in terms of the Euros, people were being warned about the racist thugs in Poland and Ukraine just waiting to beat anyone the second they get off a plane in the country. When a small group of hooligans associating themselves with Lech Poznan set off flares at a U-8 indoor tournament, immediately the headlines exploded as people rushed to their computers condemning the “crazy Poles.”
I do not argue that racism does not exist in the host countries of Euro 2012. It does. The authorities here don’t do enough to combat it, but largely, it is a tiny percentage of the population not indicative of the whole. But to just single out these two countries, which is easy to do as they are Eastern and therefore different, is to completely avoid the issue of racism in European football as a whole. Samuel Eto’o, in a CNN interview, talked about regularly being racially abused during his time playing for Barcelona in La Liga. Sven-Goran Eriksson said a problem with racist abuse existed during his time coaching Lazio. Yet would the families of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cancel a trip to Spain or Italy for fear of being victims of the same type of abuse? Probably not. Could it happen to them there? Of course. It is a problem with a minority of fans all over this continent. Instead of pretending it is only a problem in Central and Eastern Europe, let’s look at this as an issue all football federations need to acknowledge.
I have been in Poznań for the past month preparing for the tournament and have seen people of every race walking down the street or eating in restaurants. I witnessed zero attacks, either verbal or physical. The majority of Poles, and I’d assume the same with Ukrainians, are excited and ready to welcome their fellow football fans to their countries for a month-long party. Those who cancel their trips or have second guesses about visiting either host country are robbing themselves of the opportunity to visit two amazing countries and learn about a culture slightly different from their own.