Racism and Soccer Are in Play at a Big Event in East Europe

Tags: Euro 2012 Racism soccer

The most important sporting event in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall begins June 8 with the European soccer championships hosted by Poland and Ukraine.

But a complicated racial issue has arisen as the families of two of England’s black players have said they will probably not attend the 16-team tournament, fearing abuse or violence in Ukraine, where the team will play its first three matches. A BBC documentary depicting racism at soccer games there has further inflamed emotions.

At the same time, one of England’s top players, defender John Terry, faces a criminal charge after the tournament of racially abusing a black opponent during a club match last October in the English Premier League. The charge led to Terry’s being stripped of his captaincy of the English national team.

Although racism in soccer has been a continuing problem in England, Italy and Spain, it has by degree seemed to be more virulent at matches in Eastern Europe, with some fans making monkey chants and throwing bananas at black players, while others have given Nazi salutes and chanted, “Sieg heil.”

In 2011, the Bulgarian soccer federation was fined after fans made monkey chants toward the English players Theo Walcott, Ashley Young and Ashley Cole during a European qualifying match in Sofia. Also last year, the Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos walked off the field when a banana was thrown toward him at a league match in Russia.

The British government and the chairman of the English soccer association have expressed concerns about the possibility of racial abuse of players and fans in both host nations, particularly Ukraine. Few families of the English players are planning to attend the tournament, called Euro 2012, a spokesman for the soccer association said.

Ashley Walcott, the brother of the English wing Theo Walcott, said recently on Twitter that the family was avoiding Euro 2012 “because of the fear of possible racist attacks/confrontation.” He added, “Some things aren’t worth risking.”

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