Ukraine Football Racism: A Good Enough Reason to Stay at Home?

This week we saw a report on Panorama with some pretty damning evidence of rampant racism and violence in Ukraine. But amid the scenes of Nazi salutes and wooden-knife wielding maniacs, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something a little off about the report.

There’s no denying that there were flagrant scenes of extreme right-wing agendas. The antisemitic t-shirts, white power banners, and monkey impressions were impossible to ignore or to explain away. But what the report never really got to the bottom of is whether this is a major issue in Ukraine society in general, or whether it is more of an issue of the terraces?

The insinuation of the program, and indeed the advice of Sol Campbell, was that because of this flagrant racism the country wasn’t a safe place to go, particularly if you happen to be black, and that you are much better and safer to stay at home.

However, it would be extremely naive to think that there isn’t a strong right-wing faction in the UK. I remember seeing a program on the subject where in Bradford people had union flags with swastikas painted over them hanging pride of place in their front rooms. But in the UK there is no way in hell these people would get away with flying the flag in a football ground. Our racists are little more underground, but just as scary, and just as dangerous. So why should the presence of the same sort of people abroad deter you from visiting there?

The questions that the program really needed to ask, but never did, are: ‘are the scenes on the terraces indicative of the wider Ukrainian society, or are the right-wing simply in control of the football stadia?’, and: ‘am I more or less likely to be the victim of a racist attack in Kiev than in London?’

Personally I feel that the issue of racism and hooliganism is an issue of the terraces. Indeed the one non football related case that the presenter raised was a Nigerian student being stabbed, but this is hardly something that doesn’t happen over here. I certainly wouldn’t let the scenes in the crowd deter me from going to support England. In fact I will be bobbing into Poland for one of the games, and would be going to Kiev without question were it not for the fact that the flights are too damn expensive. Perhaps the issue that the program really showed was that Ukraine hasn’t sufficiently begun to crack down on the blatant displays of racism and hooliganism in the crowds. Hopefully, the Euros will provide the necessary push to make this happen.

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