By Ogova Ondego and BBC
Published June 5, 2012
Euro 2012 tournament is set to kicks off in Poland and Ukraine on June 8, 2012. But Sol Campbell, a former captain of England’s national soccer team advises non-white players and fans to steer clear of Poland and Ukraine due to rising levels of racially-motivated violence.
“Stay at home, watch it on TV. Don’t even risk it… because you could end up coming back in a coffin,” Campbell told the Panorama programme of the BBC aired on May 28, 2012. He added that Euro 2012, that ends on July 1, 2012, should not have been awarded to Poland and Ukraine because of entrenched racism and violence in those countries.
On its part, the British government advises Euro 2012 fans of Afro-Caribbean or Asian descent to take extra care in Ukraine because of racially-motivated attacks.
UEFA, European football’s governing body, said it was working with both Poland and Ukraine to ensure the safety of travelling teams and their fans.
It is estimated that 5,000 football fans from the United Kingdom, a country with many African players and fans, are set to travel for EURO 2012.
UEFA says that awarding the tournament to the two nations was an opportunity to tackle social challenges like racism; that the tournament was a chance for both countries to improve their image.
BBC’s Panorama crew are said to have spent a month filming at matches in both the joint host nations and witnessed Nazi salutes from the terraces, black players being taunted with monkey chants, rampant anti-Semitism and a vicious assault on a group of Asian students.
After watching the footage of the BBC programme titled ‘Panorama: Euro 2012 – Stadiums of Hate’, Campbell said he believed Uefa should not have chosen the countries as hosts of such a prestigious event in the first place.
“I think that they were wrong, because what they should say is that ‘if you want this tournament, you sort your problems out. Until we see a massive improvement… you do not deserve these prestigious tournaments in your country.’”
On April 14, 2012 at the Metalist stadium in Kharkiv in Ukraine – one of the host cities for Euro 2012 – massed ranks of as many as 2,000 fans in the terraces for a match between two of Ukraine’s biggest teams are reported to have given the Nazi salute to their team.
Some fans at the match told the BBC that they were saying “Sieg Heil” because Nazi leader Adolf Hitler hated “Jews and blacks” and that is how they support their team.
At a match two weeks later, scuffles broke out between rival fans and police arrived to calm things down. But they escalated again as Metalist fans began to attack a small group of their own supporters: Indian students studying in Ukraine. These students had sat in the family area of the stadium thinking it would be safe.
In the stadium’s medical room afterwards, one of the injured students said: “We were supporting the home team. It’s horrifying.”
BBC’s Panorama also filmed matches in fellow host-nation Poland, recording a chorus of anti-Semitic chanting and witnessing black football players enduring monkey chants from the terraces.
Nick Lowles from the UK-based anti-racist monitoring group Hope Not Hate was also in Poland monitoring incidents of racism.
He said that based on what he has seen, he was concerned for non-white fans travelling to support England at Euro 2012.
“Increasingly the positive thing about English football are the number of black and Asian fans that have been travelling and supporting England. I am concerned that they will be targeted by racists and fascists and anti-Semites in Poland and in Ukraine.”
“The stuff going on at the football stadiums is atrocious and it’s embarrassing and I think it embarrasses the whole country. I think that most Poles would agree with that,” he said.