I am certainly not what could be called an avid football fan, but it has been hard to avoid the focus on Euro 2012 – that of racism. With the recent Panorama programme investigating levels of racism amongst football fans from the two host nations, Poland and the Ukraine, and then the racist chants directed at the Dutch team during a training session last week in Warsaw, it is clear that overt racism is still an issue in contemporary Europe.
Ukrainian and Polish responses to the Panorama programme have been understandably strong – criticism that the report wasn’t balanced and resentment that the focus of Euro 2012 is now firmly fixated on such a negative issue, rather than being a means of providing positive profile of the two host nations across Europe. Sadly, reactions to the racist chants from some quarters have been much less understandable. The Ukrainian coach's response has been to remove all responsibility of racism from football – putting it squarely into the responsibility of ‘politics’.
I know that football in the UK is far from exemplary. Racism is certainly not extinct from our stadiums or, for that matter, wider discourse on channels such as twitter. But, what we do have is experience and progress. My understanding is that the UK’s approach in tackling racism in football has been three pronged: 1. Acknowledge it. 2. Crack down on it. 3. Share responsibility of it.
It appears that Europe’s football governing body UEFA is taking a similar approach here. Its response to the chants in particular has been to engage directly with each host city and call for a greater police presence that adopts a no-tolerance approach to any racist activity. UEFA has also written to Poland’s Minister of Sport, Joanna Mucha, asking for the full support of the authorities. However, sharing responsibility of racism is a tougher ask as it requires leadership from influential political and sporting people and bodies to lead cultural change.
It must be recognised that the UK is a very diverse nation, and has been tackling racism in sport for a long time. Our diverse richness is something that we are proud of. In fact, London’s diversity – particularly in the host borough of Newham – was a defining factor of the Olympic and Para-Olympic bid, and is something that is being celebrated both nationally and internationally in the final countdown to the Games. The Games is an opportunity for us as a nation to shine a positive spotlight on how diverse London is, and the creativity and innovation this diversity affords.
The UK is far from perfect, but I hope that Ukraine and Poland can learn from the past by looking at what the UK has achieved (and is still achieving) in tackling racism in sport, and look to the future to see how London and the UK is recognising and celebrating its diversity, and has an aim for this multiculturalism to be one the lasting legacies of the Gam