catching up on UEFA’s approach to racism
Although there haven’t been any racism incidents rivaling the kind shown on Panorama’s “Stadiums of Hate,” fairly credible reports of abuse against two black players have surfaced, and UEFA has had to take action. Czech player Theodor Gebre Selassie confirmed that he heard abuse during the Czech Republic’s match with Russia, although he did not file an official complaint. To my knowledge, Mario Balotelli either didn’t hear the taunts or isn’t saying that he did, but UEFA’s investigating abuse from Spanish and Croatian fans towards the Italian striker. The abuse at the Croatia match also potentially involved one banana thrown onto the pitch, but the evidence for that is a picture of a steward with a banana in his hand.
Things to note:
- To this point, Polish and Ukrainian fans have not been accused of any of this. Poland played the Czech Republic on Saturday, and no reports have surfaced. Ukraine played France (one of the teams with a large black contingent) on Friday, and no reports have surfaced.
- Is it simply a coincidence that the two players abused so far have been the only black players on their teams?
UEFA is making all the right noises, opening investigations, etc., etc. But the incredibly severe penalty (€100,000 plus a one-game suspension) assessed to Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner for flashing underwear during his goal celebrations that had an unauthorized sponsor label on the waistband puts UEFA in a bad light. Recent penalties imposed on nations whose fans have abused players with racist taunts pale in comparison to Bendtner’s punishment.
One person who is taking a firm stance is Croatia’s coach, Slaven Bilic, who has categorically condemned the actions of Croatian fans.
I’ll be posting a series of responses to the disconnect between UEFA’s crackdown on sponsor violations and the organization’s more tepid penalties for racism.
One final note: The game with the most potential for racist fan ruckus is tomorrow’s match between England and Ukraine, for a number of reasons. The journalism that broke the story of racism in Poland and Ukraine was produced by the BBC. Like France, the England team also has a large number of black players. The match is happening in Ukraine and against Ukraine, so there’s the possibility that more of the fans who normally attend local club matches might attend this match. Similarly, English fans are streaming into the city: over the past few days, numbers have apparently doubled from a pretty meager 5,000. The match is also very high stakes: it’s the elimination round. Each team can go through if they win. Only England can go through on a draw. So the potential is there. Apparently there are posters plastered around Donetsk announcing Ukrainian hooligans’ intentions to fight. But really, there’s no way to know until we watch the match tomorrow.
The first former Soviet-bloc nations to host the quadrennial tournament have spent almost $39 billion getting ready, including $25 billion in Poland and $14 billion in Ukraine. Besides accommodating an expected 1 million soccer fans, the two countries are betting that new stadiums, roads, and other infrastructure will help give a nice boost to their economies and local companies.
So far, it hasn’t worked out that way. Three of Poland’s biggest construction companies have declared bankruptcy in recent weeks after running up hundreds of millions in losses on Euro 2012 projects.
Ukraine, meanwhile, is saddled with $6 billion to $8 billion in debt from the championships—more than the $4 billion Greece lost on its financially ruinous 2004 Olympics, says Anatolii Baronin, an analyst at Kiev-based research group Da Vinci.
notes on yesterday’s matches
France v. Ukraine, 2-0
Sadly for Shevchenko, Ukraine couldn’t replicate Monday’s heroic efforts. This match was most notable for the weather. Did I miss something or do soccer matches routinely continue during thunder and lightning? I was surprised that the match started at all, given that the anthems were upstaged by loud claps of thunder. Then when the umpire stopped the match a few minutes in, the impression I got from the commentators was that his decision was based not on the lightning but on the standing water. Yet, as former goalkeeper/now commentator Kasey Keller mentioned, it’s all well and good for the players who are running around on the open pitch, but the goalkeepers spend the entire time standing near large metal posts, which can’t possibly be safe. So I’m confused. I get the standing water/ball handling issues, but surely players aren’t supposed to play under threat of lightning, right?
England v. Sweden, 3-2
The Three Lions had one mission: remain in contention after the first two matches so that Wayne Rooney’s return on Tuesday means something. DONE. Let’s be under no illusions: England hasn’t miraculously become one of the top teams in this tournament. But the three England goals today were fantastic: the Andy Carroll header of beauty, the Theo Walcott goal out of nowhere, and the sensational Danny Welbeck backheel flick. Defending was decent, although to be honest, I was more impressed by the blocks made by Germany’s Boateng and Ireland’s (yes, Ireland’s) Dunne. Hart remains impressive in goal: while there were a few dicey moments, his save of a powerful Ibrahimovic strike with just his fingers tells the tale.
Thoughts about the final round of the group stage
- There are only two teams that are definitively out: Ireland and Sweden.
- The Netherlands might as well be out, but there is a series of events that could happen that would qualify them. (What those combinations are, I’ll leave to somebody else to explain.)
- I would love for Ukraine to get through, but to do so, they’d have to beat England, so unfortunately, my support must go elsewhere.
- Tomorrow: I’d really like Poland to get through. Błaszczykowski’s goal on Tuesday was so sensational that it alone means that Poland deserves to go through. Not to mention the really sensational work of reserve keeper Przemysław Tytoń, who not only saved a penalty kick the moment he replaced Wojciech Szczęsny but then did stellar work during the second game which Szczęsny had to sit out. (And there needs to be at least one host country in the knockout stage.)
- I understand the purpose of the simultaneous scheduling, but still: I’d rather watch both matches back to back than either toggle back and forth or make a choice.
more reports of racist chants
There are reports that a few hundred Spanish fans taunted monkey chants at Italian striker Mario Balotelli during yesterday’s match between Spain and Italy. Reputable newspapers have yet to verify this information, and Balotelli hasn’t confirmed that he heard anything. (He hasn’t denied it either. He may be laying low after his disastrous performance yesterday.) Two thoughts, keeping in mind that this might turn out to be a false alarm.
- First, if it did happen, then it lends more credence to my idea that the real story here is UEFA’s ineffective handling of the situation, rather than a story about Poland and Ukraine.
- Second, there seems to be about a day’s lag time between a match and reports of racist abuse. (Also the ESPN feeds don’t pick these incidents up.) I’ll be on the lookout for more confirmation of this alleged abuse against Balotelli as well as any reports that may materialize from yesterday’s matches. The first match featured the largest number of black players on the pitch during any one match. The second match, Sweden and Ukraine, featured Swedish defender Martin Olsson, whose mother is Kenyan. Given that his job involved tackling Ukrainian players charging towards the goal and that the Ukrainian fans were one of the listed groups in the Panorama documentary, he might have been a potential target of racist heckling (which is not the same thing as booing).
To set the scene: Ukraine’s in its first ever European championship, and the team’s only there because they’re one of the host countries. They’re playing their first match at home. The crowd’s massive. Their major star, Andriy Shevchenko, is 35 years old, clearly at the end of his career. The commentators—and presumably the Ukrainian fans as well—were surprised to see Shevchenko in the starting lineup. Ukraine’s manager would use him sparingly, they thought. Early in the second half, Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic scores the first goal of the match. The commentators began to speculate about when a substitute would come on for Shevchenko. And then, in the 55th minute, this happened.
notes from yesterday’s matches
England v. France, 1-1
A relief, England gained a crucial point and showed off a great defense and so-so offense. Wayne Rooney is really missed. That said, the team played respectably, especially in the first half, and the defense took care of looming French threats.
Ukraine v. Sweden, 2-1
In front of the home crowd, at their first ever European championship, Ukraine dazzled. 35-year-old striker Andriy Shevchenko’s first goal was the single best moment of round 1.
- ESPN commentator Ian Darke on the France/England rivalry: “A rivalry that goes back to 1066 and William the Conquerer….the entente hasn’t always been cordiale.”
- Adding to the hands-on-heart national anthem list, which now includes the US, Croatia, and Ukraine.