Uefa is investigating claims that the Czech Republic defender, Theodor Gebre Selassie, was the victim of monkey chants during his countrys European championship defeat against Russia on Friday.
What we understand is this. In one of last night’s games, the Czech Republic‘s only black player, Theodor Gebre Selassie, went to take a corner in front of Russian fans.
We don’t know yet whether Gebre Selassie heard anything himself, but official match observers noticed monkey chanting from a small section of the crowd. It was only fleeting, and they can’t be sure who was responsible. They tried to video the culprits, but it’s not clear whether they have any evidence.
And that is the key. Because Uefa is now investigating, and it will consider not just the observers’ material but the match footage, too. There are dozens of TV cameras at every game, and those pictures will be pored over from start to finish. But if there is no evidence, there can, and should, be no charge.
If the cameras have picked up chanting, Uefa must make an example of this.
Such are the sensitivities around racism at the moment in Poland, Ukraine and indeed Russia (whose fans are being blamed for this), the Russian football federation would surely appeal any sanction if they felt the proof was somehow trumped up. And it would add to a sense here that they are being unfairly portrayed as bigots.
What football and wider society needs is for the people with the power here – the footballing authorities – to take this seriously, not cower behind a bunker mentality.
But if the cameras have picked up chanting, Uefa must make an example of this.
What a big contrast this is to the last big football tournament I covered: the World Cup in South Africa. That was, of course, the first World Cup in Africa. Euro 2012 is the biggest sporting tournament ever to have been hosted beyond what was once the iron curtain. Locations that present very different issues for visiting fans and players.
I have felt safe and, to a large degree, anonymous in Krakow. Which is nice when you are pretty much the only black person for miles.
Unlike South Africa, I’ve seen barely a handful of other black or brown folk where England are staying, in Kracow, Poland’s second city. And this is one of the more cosmopolitan parts of the region.
Have I received any abuse? Any sly looks? Snotty comments? Absolutely not. As far as I am aware, I’ve been welcomed just as I would be in any other modern European town. People have been friendly, courteous and, well, just plain normal.
I have felt safe and, to a large degree, anonymous. Which is nice when you are pretty much the only black person for miles.
Let’s not forget that the idiots who think it’s funny to compare us to apes are in a minority, even if Poland and Ukraine haven’t quite figured out how to shut them up yet. Let us also not forget that whatever we think about kicking racism out of sport in the UK, it does still happen at home, too, although not as often as it used to.
So I sit here watching Denmark v Holland, hoping there is no repeat of the alleged chanting at yesterday’s game. Because the football itself over these first few games has been quite sublime. and whether one gives a hoot about who might win come the final in just over three weeks’ time, as a sporting spectacle the Euros have started really rather well.
Let us hope the action at least continues so.
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