I quite like the European Championships (or the Euro’s as the cool kids call them). They’re much like the World Cup, except without the need to include shitty footballing nations like Saudi Arabia and Australia, who are let into the World Cup under the guise of calling it ‘The World Game’. The last few weeks have seen some truly spectacular football (unless you’re a Dutch supporter like myself), but they’ve also shown an ugly side to the game and the complete lack of foresight it is seemingly run with.
This week UEFA (The European Governing Body) has continued its string of legal action against various EU football organisations due to the conduct of ‘fans’ over the last two weeks of the tournament. Russia, Spain, Portugal, Germany, England and Croatia all face action of some sort and have all had problems take place at their games. While the actions are unquestionable, what IS questionable is the extent to which UEFA made an effort to make sure this didn’t happen in the first place.
First things first, and it has to be the Russians. Let’s cut the bullshit and be clear from the beginning. Everyone who has a vague idea of how WW2 ended knows at least the basics of history between Russia and Poland. After the war Russia got to occupy Poland for decades, something that has always stirred up nationalist sentiment as well as resentment in the Poles. When the two teams were drawn in the same group together, and given the conversations were already about problems with racism, surely alarm bells should have started going off. Instead UEFA went and continued with the draw, and the match ended up being on ‘Russia Day’ – a national day of pride which, really, could have started setting off alarm bells as well – but no. The match could have been moved from the Polish capital at least, but no. The situation was painstakingly obvious for the entire duration of time between the draw occurring and the tournament beginning, and nothing was done.
Admittedly, the Russian fans didn’t have to bring a banner with them that weighed half a tonne and covered an entire grandstand, nor did they have to march through Warsaw in the lead up to the game, but at the same time, should they have not? If this was the Olympics any nations national day would be celebrated I’m sure. What happened as the Russian fans made their way to the stadium that day was that chaos ensued. Who started it gets mixed reports for every different article you read but the arrest numbers don’t lie – 153 Poles were arrested compared to 24 Russians. That’s a bit disproportionate if the Russians started the fight, surely? What I fail to understand is that Poland isn’t being punished in the slightest. No monetary fine, no negative statements, they don’t seem accountable for any of this at all. Sure, it takes some courage to let your former imperial hosts walk down your streets and celebrate a national day but that’s the kind of price you have to be prepared to pay if you want to host a major sporting tournament. It’s obvious from the sideshow that has taken place off the pitch that Poland and the Ukraine certainly weren’t ready to do so. The worst part is that it’s obvious UEFA knew it too.
The other fine for Russia comes from the first game they played against the Czech Republic. In a convincing 4-1 drubbing the problem was caused by Russian fans who apparently waved Czarist imperial flags, lit flares, beat up stewards and made racist chants towards Czech player Theodor Selassie. The fine was $150,000. Some of these problems could have been dealt with better but some of them, such as the flare and flag-waving, have been taken to the extreme. Is it not entirely natural for a bunch of very proud people to go completely ballistic when their team manages a 4-1 victory in a quality competition? No. EVERYONE who knows much about football knows that Russian fans have the potential to be crazy, but I still believe alot of this nonsense could have been avoided if some consideration had been put into the draw. I know this defeats the purpose of a completely random draw but if it had been dealt with at the start then surely UEFA wouldn’t be making such a laughable mess of the situation now. As for the racism, I do not defend it, but it also needs to be considered that Selassie has been in the national team for 2 years now and still hasn’t scored a goal. The Czechs were being pummelled and hell, did anyone stop to think that alot of the jeering might have actually come from the Czech fans as well towards the end of the game? I’m not saying it did, but the impunity of the ‘innocent’ parties in these incidents just seems ridiculous. The Russians have received reprimands and fines after every single game they’ve played, AND they were knocked out of the competition in the last game, despite having a better goal difference and more goals scored. If the Russians feel like these Championships have become a bit of a witch hunt I empathise. Most people probably don’t, but given that all of the blame has been heaped on their shoulders because of the poor organisation and hospitality of UEFA and Poland, when it all could have been avoided, how can they not?
There are still more fines being dished out all over the association. World Champions Spain are being fined as well for the alleged racist taunts of their fans during the game against Italy. They were directed at Mario Balotelli, the… entertaining Italian striker, because Spanish fans ‘made monkey noises’ at him every time he got the ball. Once again few people stop to think that, prior to the kickoff of the tournament; Balotelli actually went on record threatening to kill people who subjected him to racism. Surely that in itself is an inflammatory comment and he should be at least partially accountable as well. Once again I’m not encouraging racism, nor do I support it, but hostility breeds hostility. The Croatians, in the same group as Italy and Spain, were also fined for similar reasons, including someone throwing a banana on the pitch, the act that Mario himself said he would kill and go to jail for. Either way, these teams are all getting fines in the tens of thousands of Euro. Russia got approximately 185,000 Euros worth of fines and 6 points deducted from their next World Cup qualifying campaign. Disproportionate? You tell me.
Germany are being fined as well, roughly 25,000 Euro for ‘letting off fireworks and singing offensive songs’ in the game with Denmark. Portugal were also fined for an attempted pitch invasion by a fan during the win over the Czechs, as the England team were during their game against Sweden.
What amazes me is that much of this is a shock to anyone. Prior to the tournament multiple ex-veterans of the European stage were saying that, given the potential for racism, and the potential safety issues, fans and players should think long and hard about attending. While the quality of football on the pitch has been wonderful there’s little denying that the running of the event has been an absolute fiasco. How the Poles got away scot-free as the victims in that situation with Russia is beyond me. They participated equally. By fining Poland, the host nation, UEFA would have basically been putting their hands up and saying ‘everyone was right’ – and that’s something Platini will never do. Then again, how that game ever took place, and on the day it did, says enough about the situation anyway.
What UEFA has let happen here is insanity. They’ve set up accommodation for nationalist hostility and racism from day one. The fans may be the ultimate perpetrators of the offences but significant dates and political tensions should be accommodated in this situation. Had the tournament taken place in many other parts of Europe this probably would never have been an issue to begin with. I understand that one of the hopes of this tournament was to promote Eastern Europe to the rest of the world. While the games have been a great promotion for football, the events and ridiculous bureaucracy that have taken place off the pitch merely reinforce my lack of desire to go there, and significantly increase my resentment towards UEFA. While everyone remembers who holds the trophy aloft at the end, many people will remember this tournament for a whole lot more.