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Stadiums of Hate or Sensationalist Journalism?

Anti-Semitic chanting, monkey noises, Nazi graffiti and a former captain of England, Sol Campbell giving the juiciest of pull quotes: “Don’t go to EURO 2012, or you might come back in a coffin.”

May 30, 2012 - Peter Gentle - Articles and Commentary

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The BBC’s flagship documentary programme, Panorama, has it all. But does the documentary, broadcast to a probably horrified audience in the UK on Monday, give a true picture of how dangerous it will be for Black, Asian, or Jewish fans visiting matches in Poland and Ukraine?

Many, including Poland’s prime minister, complain that it paints a highly distorted picture of Poland and Poles. “Nobody who comes to Poland will be in any danger because of their race. This is not our custom, as is not pointing out similar incidents in other countries, although we know they take place. In Poland, they’re a rarity,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters, Monday.

A Controversial Programme

The controversial half hour programme is split into two halves – the first in Poland, the second in Ukraine. In the first half, reporter Chris Rogers goes to derby matches in the central city of Lodz, then in Krakow – where England are based during EURO 2012 – and visits the Legia Warszawa ground in Warsaw. In Lodz, which the reporter admits will not be hosting EURO 2012 matches, we see the disgusting spectacle of monkey chants being aimed at black players, with officials at the game apparently doing nothing about it. There are also anti-Semitic chants: lots of them. It’s the same situation at a Krakow derby match between arch-rivals Wisla and Cracovia, the latter a club where hooligans self-identify themselves as Jewish – even though they are not – similar to the way some supporters of Tottenham Hotspur, a club in London that Sol Campbell once played for, by the way, still do.

Being Jewish is then used in some strange, weird ritual by the “ultras” of Krakow and Lodz clubs, as a way to insult each other. No, it doesn’t make any sense to me, either. White Power symbols are shown near the Legia Waszawa stadium in Warsaw, where the programme points out that some of the “fans” have links to far-right organisations. All the above is true and well known in Poland, but many in authority seem to be turning a blind eye. The programme then takes an even nastier turn in Ukraine, where there are scenes of Indian fans getting attacked by fellow club supporters at the Metalis Stadium in Kharkiv, a city which will host EURO 2012 matches. A Ukrainian official does nothing for his cause by claiming to the BBC that there is “no problem at club matches in Kharkiv”.

Sol Campbell, a fine footballer who played for England 73 times during his long career, says of Polish and Ukrainian football hooliganism: “I know it was like this in England at one stage [just a little over 20 years ago, in fact] but, in the 21st century, this is on a completely different level.” He then says: “The tournament should have never been given to these countries.”

Credibility gap

I grew up in London and was made to watch the BBC Panorama programme by my parents almost religiously. Here was the finest, most accurate, balanced and least sensationalist programme there was, said my dad. It was seen as the very top of broadcast journalism, tackling, and breaking exclusives, on the weightiest issues of the day. But Panorama has changed since its heyday in the 1960s, 70s, 80s. The rather sober style has changed to something more brash, loud: it’s got shorter by 20 minutes, too, and has been shoved around the schedule by the BBC for many years. Audiences have fallen.

And Panorama would never have got off to a bad a start in its pomp as Stadiums of Hate does, by displaying a map at 2.28 minutes into the programme of Poland sharing a border with … Austria! Unless there have been huge changes in borders and peoples around Europe, in secret, that only the BBC knows about, then Austria does not border Poland. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic has slipped south, and borders with a large country which appears to be Yugoslavia.

Maybe, Panorama’s confused idea of the map of Central Europe is not such a big deal in the context of the vile imagery the programme presents: but imagine if you are a Pole watching this – and many have already on youtube – and having to take seriously a programme that doesn’t even know which countries Poland borders with.

Euro fans

Another objection to the programme that I have heard here, is that the people who will be attending EURO 2012 matches in Poland are not the same as either regular, law abiding football fans who go to club matches, or the hooligans who blight the Polish game and keep huge amounts of fans from going to games.

Tickets for EURO 2012 were allocated by a lottery in Poland. Many, maybe most, of the people who applied online for tickets have never been to a football match in their lives. It’s the same as the majority of the crowd for the Equestrian event, or Beach Volleyball competition at the London Olympics have never had the pleasure before of seeing a top beach volleyball player up close and personal. EURO 2012 and London 2012 crowds will not be made up of the normal fan.

Please go to www.thenews.pl to read the rest of this article.

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