The UEFA European Championship is due to start on Friday 8th June and once again excited football fans wait in anticipation to see how their team will get on. The tournament promises to be competitive and should alleviate, for three weeks at least, the economic and political turmoil throughout Europe; however, in the lead up to the tournament sinister events threaten to undermine the championship and UEFA more widely.
When Poland and Ukraine were announced as co-hosts for the European Championships back in 2007 many things were different in Europe. The announcement came with a large slice of optimism and the policy of UEFA to embrace nations by rewarding them with host status was viewed by many as a progressive step.
In 2012 the same optimism is lacking. Taking aside the economic and political problems facing Europe, two particular events may tarnish this tournament if not handled carefully. The first is the problem of illegal gambling coupled with match-fixing. At the beginning of May, more than twenty teams from the Italian league were put under investigation of match-fixing. Three of these clubs, Atalanta, Novara and Siena, all play in Italy’s top league, Serie A.
This is not the first such incident to infect Italian football. Just over a month ago former Bari player, Andrea Masiello, was arrested after admitting to score an own goal in return for a €50,000 bribe. Unfortunately, the Italian Football Association has been unable to contain the problem and it has spilled over into the national team. Cesare Prandelli, Italy’s coach has had to leave defender Domenico Criscito out of his squad due to the player being under investigation in a match-fixing probe. With the number of betting opportunities available, from corners conceded to the amount of time Cristiano Ronaldo spends rolling around on the floor, it is very hard for football authorities to prevent spot-fixing; however, for the integrity of the game it is vital that all attempts are made to prevent players from being tempted or threatened into such activity.
Perhaps more worrying is the second scandal to have surfaced in the build up to the tournament. In a recent Panorama documentary, the BBC provided damning evidence of violent and unrestrained racism and xenophobia in football stadia in both Poland and Ukraine. The documentary showed coverage from the “holy war” derby match between Krakow’s two teams Cracovia and Wisla, in which organised anti-Semitic chanting was heard throughout and many references to the Nazi treatment of Jews throughout the Holocaust were made.
In Ukraine massed ranks of fans were shown giving a Nazi salute to their team Metalist in the Kharkiv Stadium. There were also awful scenes of Metalist fans attacking Indian students attending a game in the same stadium two weeks later. There was seemingly no help for these innocent spectators as they were set upon by these right-wing animals. This documentary has led to several England players’ families making the decision not to travel to the tournament for safety fears.
Poland and Ukraine are not isolated in this issue. In this season’s Europa League FC Porto were fined €20,000 by UEFA following racist chanting directed at Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli. This appears a decisive punishment; however, when one considers that Manchester City were fined €30,000 for arriving late on to the pitch against Sporting Lisbon in the same tournament, one begins to question whether UEFA have their priorities in order. In the past there has also been racist targeting for players in Spain, Italy, Montenegro and Serbia. Clearly, UEFA still has a lot to do.
One suggested response has been for referees to suspend matches if racism is taking place, either on the pitch or in the stadium. It may take such action for those who partake in this ignorant act to see the error of their ways. Unfortunately, with such action it is the few ruining it for the many.
It is clearly unfair and incorrect to judge a whole nation based on the ignorance of a few; however, it is a fact that tournaments such as the European Championship, the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, are used as opportunities to showcase a nation’s progression. Rightly or wrongly, the hosting of these tournaments is a reward and more importantly as a way to strengthen the host nation’s integration into the Western neo-liberal establishment. Part of the responsibility of being part of this group is improving tolerance in one’s society. If it is evident that this tolerance is not progressing then it is incumbent on the relevant sporting authorities to withdraw the hosting rights from the country. Denying that a problem exists does not eradicate it; history can show us many examples of this.