Thursday, 7 June 2012

Ukraine: a fit and proper place for Euro 2012?

On the eve of Poland and Ukraine hosting Euro 2012, thousands of fans who were going to make the trip east for the tournament are staying at home for fear of their safety. Tim Ridgway, of the Justin Campaign, asks if the tournament will be memorable but for all the wrong reasons.

Every four years, the best footballing nations from across the continent come together for the European Football Championships.

Featuring some of the best players in the world and with its heritage as the birthplace of football plus a fair few international disputes stretching back hundreds of years (England v France, Germany v Holland, Serbia v Croatia, Spain v Portugal) it makes for one of the best spectacles in sport.

Who can forget Gazza's celebration after scoring a wonder goal at Wembley in 1996? Or van Basten's volley to finally win a tournament for the Netherlands? And did anyone really see the Denmark team succeeding in 1992?

Yet what is intended as a showpiece for football on the continent has been overshadowed by some very visible signs that Ukraine and Poland, the hosts for the 2012 event, simply are not welcoming places for all followers of the beautiful game.

Since the documentary famous figures from across the footballing world, including David Beckham, have urged supporters to keep safe. Others have unconvincingly disputed the accuracy of the portrayal.

Yet, it is hard to disagree with the fact it it does not appear to be a safe place for members of the LGBT community.

Only last month Svyatoslav Sheremet, head of Gay Forum Ukraine, was attacked in full view of some members of the world's media after informing them the first gay pride in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev had been cancelled.

Such open acts of violence hardly fit in well with Uefa's vision of football for all.

If the footballing authorities and national Governments were prepared to use the tournament as a catalyst to promote equality in the country then perhaps hosting the tournament there could be seen as acceptable. But so far there seems to have been very few positive messages coming from anyone with real power.

If we use the BBC documentary as a basis then equality appears to have been absent from the dictionary in both the headquarters of the Ukrainian FA and police force. There appears to be little appetite for controlling these acts, either from individuals or those dishing out orders. Are arrests completely out of the question? And what about a warning from the Ukrainian government that any acts of violence will not be tolerated? With further reports of "monkey noises" aimed at the Dutch players after a training session on the eve of the tournament, surely enough is enough. 

With the tournament starting tomorrow, the event cannot be cancelled. But individuals and national FAs can take their own stands. If there are signs of abuse of any nature then why not just walk off the pitch and refuse to play? Uefa will soon have to act when faced with an unexpected egg dripping down its face.

Quite simply Euro 2012 is in danger for being remembered for all the wrong reasons. The footballing authorities have to realise that this is not just about Uefa spreading football across the continent and making money. Football should be a sport for all and by advocating nations that do not tolerate and accept people for who they are, it is failing those that make it so special.

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