(Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin, truly a Zumba-bummer).
There’s been considerable outcry over Euro 2012 taking place in an environment where racist abuse seems to be business-as-usual. The Observer’s Daniel Taylor, while quick to stress “Uefa got it wrong awarding the tournament to Poland and Ukraine,” makes it clear those nations are hardly alone when it comes to hate fuckery.
One of the reports into Euro 2004, compiled by Football Against Racism in Europe, talks of Spanish fans with tattoos and flags featuring neo-Nazi symbols such as Waffen-SS skulls, Celtic crosses and the number 88, the abbreviation for HH – Heil Hitler. More recently, consider the abuse directed at Balotelli on Manchester City’s foreign excursions last season, first at Villarreal, then Porto. Or remember the treatment reserved for England’s black players during a friendly against Spain at the Bernabéu in 2004 and the indignation in the Spanish media when their English counterparts had the temerity to complain. Antena 3 talked of “absurd accusations” and “gross exaggerations”. The sports daily As accused the English of being “very serious when it comes to race, politically correct to the extreme, which is just another way of hiding their own defects”.
There are people in Poland and Ukraine who are starting to suspect the same thing, and maybe with at least the basis of a point. Anyone who watched the Panorama documentary, Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate, will understand that a football match in Krakow or Kiev is very different to one in London or Manchester. Yet let’s not be too self-congratulatory or delude ourselves into thinking the Premier League is devoid of racism, especially after some of the things that have happened over the past year. Or that just because the newspapers don’t like to give them too much publicity there are not groups of boneheaded men going on racist marches through various towns and cities on their weekends.
Now we hear reports of Russian supporters with far-right flags abusing the Czech Republic’s Theodor Gebre Selassie, and it is not being alarmist to look at, say, Ukraine’s games against France and England with a little trepidation. Before then, the Ukraine coach, Oleh Blokhin, will inevitably be asked to explain his comments, in the New York Times in 2006, that “the more Ukrainians that play in the national league, the more examples for the young generation – let them learn from Shevchenko or Blokhin and not some Zumba-Bumba they took off a tree, gave him two bananas and now he plays in the Ukrainian league”.