Are England any more deserving of a major tournament than Poland & Ukraine? Not on this evidence...
Racism. A sensitive topic, and one which people have strong opinions on. I watched the BBC Panorama programme on the issues in Poland/Ukraine, and asked myself how easy it would be to portray England in the same light. All the attention, though, is on Eastern Europe. So, let's hope this is a refreshing view...
Type racism into Google Images. The first page of results says it all. Football has become synonymous with the one 'social ill' that has so often resulted in animosity and conflict.
Two years ago, almost to the day, police in England had succeeded in arresting one of sixteen men believed to had racially abused Sol Campbell. One year ago, almost to the day, two Chesterfield fans were arrested for abusing a black steward. And, just 2 weeks ago. Swindon Town concede that manager Paolo Di Canio made an 'inappropriate' racist remark to one of his own players.
The very tip of the iceberg in terms of racially-aggravated incidents in England in the last few years. Perhaps it is time to 'kick out' the idea that we are a pure footballing nation, more worthy than any other of hosting the game's major tournaments.
John Terry has been at the centre of the storm, Photo: By John_Dobbo on Flickr
You may have only needed to turn on your television for five minutes in recent weeks to hear a mention of the 'racism fears' surrounding Euro 2012, with many labelling Poland/Ukraine as an 'unfit' host for the tournament. Russia have suffered a similar fate. Due to host the 2018 World Cup, an instance of violence following their 4-1 win against the Czech Republic has left UEFA's choice in some doubt.
Racism, violence, and the link between them is a deeply-rooted issue in sections of Polish and Ukrainian (football) culture, there's no doubting that. Such countries are indeed years behind England in terms of overcoming these problems. That too, goes without saying. Such countries are, however, much less racially diverse than England. I often wonder where we would be in terms of racism, if the circumstances were different. Not for a minute do I condone the mindless abuse and violence.
The 'monkey chants' towards Dutch players during training, that would never happen here in England, I accept that. In that sense, fair enough, we are the more advanced nation. But as the nation which invented the very game, should be not be setting the bar higher? Perhaps, though, our country needed to host such a prestigious tournament, i.e. Euro '96, in order to set the foundations for an improved future. 20% of those living in England are not White British. In Poland, just 4% of the population are not White Polish. Poland/Ukraine have never hosted a major tournament like this.
My point being, for the next month, these countries will be living amongst hundreds of thousands of foreigners, that alone could change the ideas embedded in sections of their culture. Poland/Ukraine can have no problems in identifying the hooligans at games. They, like England, have top security in place to ensure that this happens. The difference is, whereas life bans are issued across England for offenders, re-offending is stopping Eastern Europe from progressing.
The BBC Panorama has done little to relieve tensions. An 'insight' marred by complete bias, the broadcast succeeded in portraying the actions of the minority, as those of the majority, as these programmes so often do. What kind of moral high ground are we trying to achieve by displaying the apparent problems in other countries, when we could be viewed as being unworthy hosts for the 2012 Olympics?
Let's take this hypothetical situation: Poland, having seen the damage caused by our sensationalist claims, decide to boycott the London Olympics amid fears following the mass riots in the city earlier in the year. People in glass houses etc etc. You don't have to reach far into the archives to find another contradiction. Time and time again, we see Millwall and West Ham portrayed as nationalist-supporting 'thugs', again in the majority. And it is the same with the attitude towards Tottenham fans here in England. The programme slammed Poland/Ukraine and their people for using the term 'jew' as an insult. Across our country, however, you will hear their club referred to as 'The Yids' in a derogatory fashion. And yes, I am aware they call themselves the 'Yid Army.'
So, Tottenham fans, sometimes the victims of racial abuse. I mentioned Sol Campbell, who was also a victim of racial abuse. He was abused by Tottenham fans, a minority to be precise. There is a pattern emerging... Take a look at these videos.
Russian fans attack stewards at Euro 2012
Birmingham fans invade pitch against Aston Villa
Some of us have been quick to judge Russia as a nation of violence. I wonder how they judge our country when derby day in England comes about. Yes, over there, it is on a larger scale in today's society. But is that really the point? By taking the actions of so few, and as a result labelling a whole country as having a serious discrimination issue, maybe some of us committed an act of racism as well.
Could we even argue that, in a way, the racism we have witnessed in England in recent times is in fact more dangerous than that in Poland? It sounds far-fetched, but i'll try to explain. Going back to the idea about setting foundations etc, just think about where our racism is coming from. Recent incidents have stemmed from our players, even those as highly-regarded as our (ex) England captain. Need I mention Luis Suarez? Probably not. The idea is that whilst over here, it is our players who are quite literally committing the crime; in Poland, the problem lies largely with the fans.
I usually don't like to use the 'players are role models and should act like so' point, as it is often put forward as an argument against issues such as diving. But, in this case, it couldn't be more true. Let's hope that young British fans, those who idolise these players, don't see what their heroes are doing and copy them. In this sense, racism in England could be at a vital stage of a vicious cycle. Whilst I don't believe that England is set for a new generation of discrimination in football, or that the issue in Poland will soon reach an end, I believe my point highlights the need for change.
All of this is compounded by the fact that the biggest talking point of our European Championship campaign so far has been an issue underpinned by racism. Rio Ferdinand cannot play alongside John Terry, who allegedly racially abused his brother, Anton. 'Footballing reasons,' if you prefer the euphemism.
I for one would have loved to have made the BBC Panorama. I'd love to balance the argument, and remind fans that racism can't just be brushed under the carpet in our country, or that English teams don't still have rival 'firms.' But it just isn't that simple. Take the Euros with a pinch of salt, for the good of the English game if anything. I am absolutely not coming down on the side of Platini and the rest of them, let me reassure you of that. Never have I been anti-England or similar.
But, I fail to see why our problems, in all aspects, are constantly overlooked. This is hopefully just a wake-up call to those fans who think England should host every tournament simply because 'we have the stadia in place already.' Maybe everything we see at the tournament isn't all it seems. Are we ever really getting the full picture? The fact of the matter is that some racists attach themselves to football and the gang-culture that surrounds it. That perhaps, will never change.
The one important thing that the documentaries have pointed out, is that whenever a hooligan is interviewed, be it in North America, South America or Eastern Europe, they speak of wanting to overtake England and it's reputation for trouble at the football. This is an English-made problem. To use an other Olympic reference, we now seem to be attempting to 'pass the torch' to other countries, in order for them to be the scapegoat. The beauty of this, as always, is that it is all a matter of opinion. Opinion leads to debate, debate leads to change. For that, I am glad. Constantly looking at our country through rose-tinted glasses is another matter.