Euro 2012 Ukraine: 'It will be much too dangerous for black people to go out on game nights'

Screen grab of a video of football hooligans in a Ukrainian stadium.  
 
 
With just a few days left before the start of the European football championship, which runs from June 8 to July 1 in Ukraine and in Poland, many people are warning about the possibility of racist attacks on fans in countries known for having active xenophobic groups. We asked two of our Observers in Ukraine whether they are worried.
 
The issue of racism in Ukrainian football was cast into the spotlight on May 28, when the BBC broadcast a special report called “Stadiums of Hate”. It shows, among other things, young people giving Nazi salutes during matches, chasing Asian football fans in the stands and greeting black football players with monkey noises. This report shocked many people in Europe, and prompted England’s former football team captain Sol Campbell to advise British fans to “stay at home, watch the matches on TV. Don’t even risk it … You could end up coming back in a coffin.” The former star player also questioned the Union of European Football Association’s decision to hold the championship in these countries “when they should have addressed their problems [with racism] first.”
 
Poland and Ukraine, where the report was filmed, are now trying to quell football fans’ fears. Poland’s spokesperson for the championship stated that football-related racism “concerned a small minority of the fans in the stadium”. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Kingdom denounced the BBC report as “unbalanced and biased” and said that Ukrainians are tolerant toward minorities.
 
In a report on Ukraine published in 2011, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) noted that racist incidents have been on the rise since 2006. That year, an African student was murdered near a university. The organisation also took note of a string of racist attacks throughout the country in 2011. It has recommended that authorities “avoid saying racist and xenophobic things” and that the media be careful not to create “an atmosphere of hostility”.
Contributors

'Students show each other photos or videos of monkeys on their phones, and compare them to my African friends and I'

Nouphi (not his real name), 26, is attending university in Odessa, Ukraine’s third-largest city. He is from Brazzaville.
 
I’ve gotten into the habit of sitting at the back of the classroom so that nobody can make fun of me behind my back. I’ve often seen other students showing each other photos or videos of monkeys on their phones. Then they snap a picture of us and compare us to the monkeys, which makes them all laugh. [Read our story about a Ukrainian newspaper that published photos of monkeys to depict black and Arab people].
 
I had to change gyms after someone tried to colour my skin white with the chalk used for weight training. The contrast of the white chalk on my black skin seemed to amuse everyone. For me, it was simply humiliating.
 
"I will watch the football championship on my computer. It will be much too dangerous for black people to go into the streets"
 
When you’re black, you get stopped by the police all the time. At the beach, the police ask you to show them your identity papers, when all you’re doing is swimming in the water with your friends. The last time I took the train with a Ukrainian friend, a policeman asked to see my passport. He didn’t ask my friend.
 
I will watch the football championship on my computer. Definitely not in any bar! It will be much too dangerous for black people to go out into the streets on game nights.

'Football hooligans will surely target supporters of the French football team'

Cisse (not his real name), 27, is a recent university graduate who lives in the Ukrainian city of Ternopil. He comes from Guinea-Conakry.
 
The other day, in the bus, I got up to give my seat to an elderly woman. She responded by saying, in front of everyone, “I don’t need your help – you’re black!” Another elderly woman said the same thing when I tried to help her cross a street.
 
A few days ago I went to the bank. I was waiting in line behind two Ukrainian people. When my turn came, the bank teller closed the counter and said it was time for her break, when a timer in plain view showed that she still had 10 minutes left before her break. I tried to insist, but she said, smiling, that she was tired and that I would have to come back later. This sort of treatment occurs on a regular basis for black people.
 
Racism is at its worst, though, in football. I myself was beat up after playing in a football game with other Ukrainians, even though I had been invited by a friend. Football hooligans will surely target supporters of the French football team [because the team includes many black and Arab players]. It will be dangerous to go out in the streets if France wins the European football championship.
 
 
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