Warsaw – The worries before Euro 2012 were big. Uefa president Michel Platini had to answer more questions about racism at his first appearance in Poland than about the up-coming action on the pitch. And a controversial BBC report about right wing extremists in Ukraine sparked major debate, drummed up fear and forced Platini into explanation mode.
And then all those prejudices seemed to be confirmed as a small group of Polish fans made ape noises at the Netherlands training; the first bananas landed on the edge of the pitch; the dark-skinned players Mario Balotelli of Italy and the Czech Republic's Theodor Gebre Selassie were racially abused; and a Nazi flag was spotted in a German fan section.
The organisation Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare), which is working with Uefa, reported that between 300 and 500 Croatian fans had racially abused Balotelli. Fare has been employing a helper in the fan blocks at every match who spoke the languages of both teams' fans.
“We were shocked by what we had heard,” Fare boss Piara Powar reported to Uefa.
It seems like everyone is talking about the racism issue. And the whole matter grew in explosiveness thanks to Balotelli's comments before the European Championship.
“If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail, because I will kill them,” said the Italian star striker. He also urged that he would not accept racist actions in the stands, saying he would pack his bags and leave immediately for home.
Balotelli is still at Euro 2012 and will be taking on England in the quarter-finals on Sunday in Kiev.
The Czech Gebre Selassie meanwhile said he had just been ignoring the insults he has experienced before their quarter-final match-up with Portugal on Thursday in Warsaw. He said they were not that bad – perhaps more to protect himself.
“Until now there have only been individual cases. But any instance of racism is one too many,” said Platini.
That is also the case for the father and management of Mesut Oezil, who have registered a complaint against persons unknown for racist remarks against the Germany midfielder made through the social network Twitter.
But in reality, the problem is not as ever-present as feared. The only real incorrigible fools have been the Croatian fans.
“The many reports about racist incidents at Euro 2012 has left the wrong impression,” wrote the Financial Times.
“In that climate, a banana that may or may not have been thrown by Croatian fans at a black Italian player becomes international news.”
Uefa's control and disciplinary body has dealt with numerous incidents during the tournament – with the punishment at times drawing major criticism. Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner for example was fined €100,000 euros or exposing sponsored underwear while the Crotian federation was levied only an €80,000 euro fine for racist chants from their fans at Balotelli.
Former English international Rio Ferdinand was out-raged and said: “Uefa are you for real? 80,000 (pound) fine for Bendtner. All of the racism fines together don't even add up to that?!”
Ferdinand's former England team-mate Sol Campbell drew headlines before the Euro for warning English fans against traveling to Ukraine.
“Stay at home, watch it on TV. Don't even risk it ... because you could end up coming back in a coffin,” Campbell told BBC.
But the Financial Times came to a strong conclusion.
“It is remarkable not how much tension there has been between rival fans, but how little. And yet ethnic violence has flared only once here: not between whites and blacks, but between Poles and Russians.” – Sapa-dpa