Uefa finally admitted today there had been a racist incident after Dutch black players were subjected to monkey chants during a training session in Poland two days ago in the build-up to the opening games of the Euro 2012 tournament.
The racism row and violence against English-speaking fans threatened to overshadow the tournament even before it began this afternoon with the Poland against Greece game. The football authorities vowed to take action if there was a repeat of the abuse. But MPs and campaigners condemned them for not being tougher following the Dutch case which was initially played down.
Labour MP Diane Abbott said: “They are turning a blind eye. The danger is that by not acting, they leave the door open for further racial abuse of black and Asian players and fans.”
Piara Powar, the executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe, said: “We’re very clear with Uefa that any incident of this kind needs to be looked at.”
Conservative MP Mark Field, vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary football group, added: “I fear Uefa are trying to brush this under the carpet.”
In a statement today, Uefa accepted that there had been racist chants at Wisla’s Krakow ground as reported by the Dutch captain Mark van Bommel.
“Uefa has now been made aware that there were some isolated incidents of racist chanting,” it said.
As the England team gathered for a training session in Krakow, former captain Rio Ferdinand — whose brother Anton was allegedly racially abused during a match by England’s John Terry — tweeted: “Tell me I didn’t see this … the Dutch team getting abuse already? Hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.”
Dutch football great Ruud Gullit added: “It’s sad. We don’t need this.”
Sports minister Hugh Robertson warned that discrimination must not be tolerated as fears grew that the tournament will be marred by racism or anti-Semitism.
He said: “Racism of any form is unacceptable on the football pitch or elsewhere. If it occurs I would expect the authorities to stamp down on it in the strongest possible terms.”
The Dutch FA has decided not to make an official complaint. But van Bommel, with the backing of the Dutch squad, insists players were targeted.
England have several black players including Ashley Young, Ashley Cole, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The families of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain have declined to travel to watch the matches because of fears over racism, and former player Sol Campbell advised fans to avoid the tournament because of race fears.
As the racism row grew, there were reports that local thugs attacked English-speaking fans last night — just hours before the start of the event being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine.
About 50 hooligans punched and kicked foreign football supporters speaking English and Russian as they drank in a pub in the central Polish city of Lodz.
Witnesses said young masked men wearing the club colours of local team LKS Lodz pulled up in cars next to a pub and attacked anyone in sight, throwing punches and kicks.
“When they started to hit out, we fled inside,” one victim said. “We barricaded the entrance. Some of us remained outside, and they got the brunt of the attack.”
Two men were injured and a Polish witness said: “They forced two younger men to the ground, with multiple attackers starting to punch and kick them. It was a horrible sight. I fumbled for my phone and called the police. They were lying motionless on the pavement. I thought they were dead.
“After a couple of minutes, one of them started to get up, and then the second. I was very relieved.”
British ministers are boycotting England’s group stage matches in protest at “selective justice” in Ukraine and because of the workload for the Olympics. The Government is concerned about the treatment of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Ukraine’s ambassador to London, Vladimir Khandogiy, today criticised the British decision. “This reason for not attending is something that I don’t understand since I believe that sport and politics don’t mix,” he said.
Whitehall insiders stressed the Government was making a political statement through the boycott, backed by other EU nations.
A 22-year-old football fan in Krakow is in hospital after being attacked by hooligans wielding machetes in what was apparently a fight between fans of local clubs. Police spokesman Renata Kostecka said: “He suffered light cuts and a major wound to his thigh. He is still in hospital.”
Three men were arrested.
London Evening Standard