16th Jun 2021

Racist groups could mar European football championship

  • Watching the game in Poland: the report remarks on the popularity of anti-Semitic material despite the country's tiny Jewish population (Photo: bildungsr0man)

Rights campaigners have highlighted the prevalence of racism and anti-semitism on the football scene in Poland and Ukraine as the countries get ready to host the Euro 2012 championships.

A report by the Warsaw-based Never Again and the Kiev-situated Football Against Prejudices groups noted that between September 2009 and March 2011, fascist symbols and slogans were displayed 56 times in and around football games in Poland and 51 times in Ukraine.

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In Poland, the overwhelming number - 36 incidents - concerned anti-semitic material despite the fact that Poland is home to a tiny Jewish minority of just 50,000 or so people. Twenty incidents concerned symbols targeting black people and eight incidents concerned homophobic material.

The report lists dozens of examples, such as a game in Rzeszow, Poland, on 8 May 2010, in which fans of Resovia Rzeszow displayed a giant banner showing a character with a hooked nose and yellow teeth wearing a yarmulke in the colours of the Israeli flag with a red 'No entry' sign painted over the top. The police and match authorities did not react.

In Lodz on 15 October 2010, Legia Warszawa fans chanted: "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas chambers" and threw smoke bombs and flares, sparking clashes with police.

On 15 December 2010, in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, fans of the Karpaty team displayed banners of the Ukrainian division of the Nazi SS corps with the slogan "For a white Europe."

Monkey imitations and banana-throwing when black players won the ball, advertisements for neo-Nazi rallies, Ku Klux Klan symbols, the American Confederate flag and the Celtic cross - both neo-fascist insignia - also featured prominently.

On some occasions, figures in authority, such as Anna Zalewska, an MP from Poland's leading opposition party Law and Justice, were part of the problem. The report cites that on 12 January this year Zalewska was photographed wearing a scarf in support of the Gornik Walbrzych team with the Nazi motto "Loyalty is my honour."

"The European championship is a big issue in Poland and Ukraine, and there is a lot of talk about preparations but most of it focuses on the infrastructure - stadiums, roads - and we think there's not enough awareness of the social aspects," Never Again activist Rafal Pankowski told EUobserver on Wednesday (13 April).

"The championship is a chance to have some positive change. We can't end racism in time for Euro 2012, but maybe we can raise awareness of the problems."

Pankowksi said there is a growing number of incidents inside and around lower league games in Poland, but a decreasing number in top-tier games. In Ukraine, even the biggest clubs have noticeable far-right followers.

"We don't want to over-dramatise the risks, but of course the possibility exists of racist incidents, maybe even violent incidents during Euro 2012, especially outside the stadiums," he explained.

"What we are seeing is very graphic forms of expressing this kind of prejudice. But it reflects something broader in society - racism and anti-semitism are not invented in football stadiums. In Poland, in Ukraine, football is just one area of life where you witness anti-semitism."

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