In the run-up to EURO 2012, host nations Poland and Ukraine have been working hard to put their best foot forward. There are several coats of fresh paint on everything in Warsaw and not a single skyscraper has been left naked as banners hang from towers around the downtown core. Meanwhile, the BBC has put out a multi-part documentary entitled “Stadiums of Hate” targeting antisemitism and racism within Polish and Ukrainian football culture. It’s two very different sides of the games.
As foreigners living in Poland we can say that there is more racism and antisemitism here then we experienced in Canada. It makes us uncomfortable. It makes us angry. It makes us sad. Yet, it is not as pandemic as the BBC portrayed. With passing footnotes that racism is a problem in football culture across Europe, Panorama has presented a very biased view of what people should expect. We’re not denying that there are problems, but spending 2 weeks in Poland falls short of thorough research. We’ve spent a lot of time in Warsaw and we’ve never been greeted by some of the images that are shown in the documentary.
So what are we saying?
Yes, racism and antisemitism are real and serious problems in Poland. As is xenophobia for that matter. It’s caused us some unthinkable moments. BBC Panorama’s “Stadiums of Hate” is not an accurate portrayal of everyday life in Poland and there are some notable Western European stereotypes and assumptions about life in CEE. Max Kolonko has a good reminder for those of us who are on the outside of the Old Continent looking in: “In the stadiums of Europe, just as on European streets, fan’s emotions collide with their country’s history and ethnic stereotypes mix with names on player’s jerseys. Historical roots of football clubs are digested in stadiums by crowds which psychology turns complex historical associations into catchy slogans…Germans don’t like Poles, French dislike Brits, both dislike Ukrainians and Ukrainians… heck they probably dislike them all! Give’em the ball and let’em make peace. Welcome to Euro 2012”.
Depending on where you are in the world you can watch the documentary on YouTube or on the BBC’s website. It’s worth a watch as there are elements of real truth in there. Ultimately, we know that a few “hooligans” could ruin this for Poland, but sport is one of our great connectors. We support the UEFA in bringing the games to Central/Eastern Europe (CEE). There’s enough going on in Europe to divide it, EURO is a time for competition, connection, and celebration.
Knute Rockne said, “One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than a hundred teaching it”. Our prayer for Poland as it co-hosts EURO 2012 is that it would be remembered for the ones who showed just how warm the Polish can be and leave antisemitism and racism, real or media-hyped, in the past.