Euro 2012 Special: Hate crime in Ukraine – Will the police look the other way?

This article was written for the Football Rascal Blog.

UEFA, the governing body of European football comments on their website, “Racism and any other forms of discrimination will never be tolerated. UEFA will not tolerate violence either on the pitch or in the stands. Football must set an example

Indeed, I couldn’t agree more UEFA. Which rather begs the question, why did you chose Ukraine to joint host the Euro 2012 championships?

Ukraine, is a country that Amnesty International describes as having, “[a] poor human rights record, in particular, widespread criminality, torture and other ill-treatment by the police force responsible for the safety of Euro 2012 fans”. The human rights group goes onto raise, “the issue[s] of racist and homophobic attacks, discrimination, violations of the right to a fair trial, failure to protect asylum-seekers and migrants, and the harassment and prosecution of human rights defenders”. I wonder how many in UEFA officials have read this glowing report card?

Now, I am no expert here but how do “racist and homophobic attacks” combined with “torture and ill-treatment by the police force” sit with UEFA’s image of “zero-tolerance” of either “violence or discrimination”. In fact it seems to imply the exact opposite.

I am not opposed to major sporting events being held in countries with less than perfect human rights records per se. Indeed, life would be a bit boring if year in year out every major event was held in Luxembourg as every other country failed to make the cut. But, there has to be limits, a line that isn’t crossed. My argument here is that fan safety is an example of a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

On 20th May 2012, police told organisers of the gay pride march to abandon the event claiming, “500 ultra-right football hooligans were en route to the rally point with the intention of preventing the march from going ahead”. So, a peaceful march was banned because of “500 ultra-right football hooligans”.

Once again I turn to Amnesty International and their researcher Max Tucker who commented, “Their [Kiev’s police force] reluctance to commit to the event and to put adequate security measures in place to protect demonstrators left organizers fearing for their safety”. After this, two activists were beaten up by a dozen youth in central Kiev. In short, the police failed to protect a group of citizens from a group of far-right football supporters.

So what has a gay pride event and Euro 2012 got to do with each other I hear you ask?

Simple. Why would you believe that the police are going to be more willing to protect LGBT activists at a gay pride event than a LGBT supporters group at Euro 2012? Or come to think of it, a black family or a Jewish supporters group?

The issue is about how authorities respond to trouble makers. Call me old fashioned on this one, but I think authorities shouldn’t pander to the hate filled whims of the far right. Crazy I know.

I think that “immigrants, gays, blacks” or anyone else who doesn’t fit into the far right’s bizarre hate filled outlook, should be free to attend these sporting events without fear of attack. In Ukraine I don’t think this is the case.

The families of  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott have already said they will not travel there because for fear of racist abuse. This lack of protection means that Ukraine has failed in its responsibilities as a host country.

Despite what the BBC would have you believe with their slightly sensationalist ‘Stadiums of hate’ documentary, this is nothing new. Attacks on the LGBT community, religious groups and ethnic minorities have a long and well documented history in Ukraine. A history that too often the state has been complicit in.

At this stage however I don’t believe the tournament should not be cancelled. Nor though do we want an atmosphere where people are arrested on the spot for drunkenly shouted something offensive (in my opinion it shouldn’t be a crime to cause someone offence).

What I would like to see is the Ukrainian state to unequivocally condemn the police’s actions a few weeks ago and make it abundantly clear that the police will be there to protect supporters regardless of their background, sexuality or beliefs. Is this too big a ask?

My worry is that by the time this article goes to print we will already have seen violence on the streets or terraces of Ukraine.

I worry that Sol Cambell’s comment to fans to “Stay at home, watch it on TV. Don’t risk it because you could end up coming back in a coffin” may end up becoming a reality. Fan safety is the first priority and football is the second. UEFA have to be clear on this point.

Is football being overshadowed by events around the tournament? If UEFA had made a better choice in the first place, would such problems even be on the agenda? Let us know your opinion! 

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Filed under Far-right politics, Football, Human rights, Sport

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