Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Stadiums of Hate"

Finally managed to track down the BBC Panorama doco Stadiums of Hate, which looks at what football fans might have to expect when travelling to Poland and Ukraine these next few weeks for the European Championships.

(The original video I posted got deleted, so I suggest seeking it out. Try here. If not, it may be up on the net somewhere, it's worth watching.)

It's quite shocking, pathetic and bewildering really, seeing football fans whose countries were once attacked by the forces of Adolf Hitler mindlessly giving the Nazi salute. It also shows black players being taunted with monkey chants (an ever-present in other parts of Europe as well), and a group of Indian students being set upon at a game in Ukraine. After viewing the footage, former England captain Sol Campbell is shown advising non-white English fans not to travel to the tournament for safety reasons.

The program has been criticised for its sensationalism. A Jewish community leader in Krakow, Jonathan Ornstein, who is interviewed in the program, complained that the BBC omitted parts of his interview that presented a more balanced side to the story. It's true that the program shows nothing of the majority of non-violent, non-racist fans who go to football games in the two countries. But the fact that these shocking images exist at all is bad enough, and it's amazing to watch the way the behaviour of fascist "ultras" is tacitly accepted by stadium-goer and law enforcement alike.

But that kind of football hooliganism will not necessarily translate into violence against travelling fans of other countries. An important distinction needs to be made between the type of crowds that will attend Euro games - between nations from all over the continent - and those that attend local derbies in the Ukrainian and Polish national leagues. The far-right hooliganism exists within the national league context, and while there are certainly ties to neo-Nazis and other movements, they are much less likely to mobilise for games that are of no direct interest to them.

That said, I wouldn't be in a hurry to go there. It only takes one extremist, or one incident, to set things off. And both countries clearly have a rich supply of young dumb thugs with too much time on their hands.

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