It's now up to Poland and Ukraine to prove that they're worthy hosts.
Whenever the word “racism” hits the airwaves or is splashed across headlines, the world takes notice. Unsurprisingly, as soon as the word got out that the Euro 2012 tournament was to be co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, tongues were wagging. To say that racism fears have tainted Europe’s football extravaganza is an understatement because the football fraternity is already holding its breath as that continent’s best sides are battling out for top honours. The competition kicks off today with hosts Poland locking horns with Greece.
But just a week before the tournament, Ukraine suffered bad publicity when a British documentary showed hooligans attacking dark-skinned supporters of the same team during a league match in that country. What followed was a firestorm of denials and defences from host nations who also asserted that all fans would be welcome and that racism didn’t really pose a serious threat to the competition.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, Volodymyr Khandogiy, believes that the documentary was over the top. "What was aired, in my personal opinion, is unbalanced and biased reporting about the situation in Ukraine," he said."I would like to say we do not in Ukraine have a problem of that magnitude as it appeared on the screen."
Former England footballer Sol Campbell warned black supporters not to attend the tournament.
Not to be outdone, controversial Italian striker Mario Balotelli, who is due to compete in the tournament, said: “If someone throws a banana at me in the street… I will go to prison because I will kill them.” He has also threatened that he’d leave the tournament and go home if he suffered racial abuse on the field.
On the eve of the tournament, UEFA confirmed that there were “isolated incidents of racist chanting” targeted at Netherlands players during their training in Krakow, Poland, on Wednesday. Team captain Mark van Bommel said the chants were aimed at his team-mates.