Jim White

Let’s hope Euro headlines made on the pitch

Jim White

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All eyes are on the Warsaw pitch for the opening game of Euro 2012

Specially for Euro 2012, a new tram stop has been built outside Wroclaw's impressive Municipal Stadium. A symphony in concrete, topped off by an elegant, light sweep of a concrete roof, its clean, uncluttered lines serve as a testament to modernity. Or at least they were clean and uncluttered until some angry vandal with a spray can set about its walls last night. Now the first thing you see as you get off the tram, sprayed ready to welcome the tens of thousands of visitors from Russia and Czech Republic expected to watch this evening's Group A fixture, are the simple words: F*** Euro.

Repeated all the way down through the underpass to the stadium, the insistent theme has a few variants as it goes. F*** Tusk is one. Which is not a dismissive reference to Fleetwood Mac's back catalogue, but a reference to the Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, a centrist in Tony Blair mould, keen on ever greater integration of his country into the European Union. It becomes clear that the spray painter is not just angry at the football tournament currently obsessing his fellow citizens, he is pretty furious too about the single market and its ailing currency. Here in Wroclaw, politics, it seems, has stuck its nose right into the football.

Mind, it would not be the first time. Indeed, F*** Euro is also the catchy slogan of a bunch of women in Ukraine agitating about the sex trade, a pressure group who seized a few column inches when one of their number grabbed the Henri Delaunay trophy from Michel Platini during the ceremonial hand over to the hosts last month. The fact she was topless at the time in no way undermined her campaign against sexploitation.

Meanwhile, British ministers have refused to travel to group matches in Ukraine to make a political point about the Kiev government's treatment of the opposition leader Yulia Timoshenko (though cynics suggest, since they generally prefer to associate themselves with sporting success, they are merely holding fire until they see how England get on).

This is the way of the modern sporting tournament. Such is the attention, the media focus, the sudden upsurge in reporting that it brings, everyone tries to seize their moment. It happened at this year's University Boat Race. It will happen at the London Olympics. It already has with the Olympic torch relay, interrupted on its progress through Northern Ireland last week by Republican protestors. Which, if nothing else, made you wonder: since when has the IOC been responsible for the oppression of the Irish in the north?

And at this tournament — which, behind all the corporate branding, has the promise of delivering real, unschooled, proper football commitment and passion — there are certain to be more attention seekers looking to grab a headline. Some of them, sadly, may well be racists. The hard core rightists who have infected football out here in Eastern Europe are not going to stop barracking black players because Michel Platini asks them to. They misguidedly believe they are fighting to preserve the purity of their nation and race. And the Euros present an unmissable opportunity to make their point. As some did at Holland's training session in Krakow yesterday.

If they do make their presence felt at any point in the tournament (and this evening's game between Czech Republic and Russia features Theodor Gebre Selassie, one of the first black players to represent an Eastern European footballing nation) it will represent a huge dilemma for those of us covering matches for the visiting media. Sure, if there is widespread vilification of black players, it has to be reported. In fact it is our duty to do so. If nothing else to prove that — for all our own difficulties in the area in Britain — we find it repulsive and not the mark of a modern nation.

But what happens if you hear something in passing? Do you point up an isolated intervention by an attention-seeking racist idiot? If it's just a couple of morons making their twisted point, is that any more reflective of what is really going on here than the bloke with the spray can leaving his spore on the walls of the stadium tram stop?

That Panorama footage of ugly racist assaults during a Ukrainian league game, together with Sol Campbell's impassioned suggestion that black fans would be better off staying away from the tournament, has received much exposure on the television here in Poland. Much of it has come accompanied by the rather hurt suggestion that it would be quite wrong to brand a whole region by the behaviour of a small group of thugs. This, after all, is a nation so far doing a splendid job welcoming the rest of Europe to a fun and trouble-free fiesta of football. To home in on the behaviour of an evident minority would be as unfair, indeed, as it might have been to characterise every Englishman as a hooligan after England supporters laid waste to much of the centre of Charleroi in Euro 2000.

Of course, the best thing for everyone concerned — not least the black players whose presence has suddenly been talked up as the litmus test of a nation's level of civilisation — would be if nothing happened. So it is with fingers crossed that we head towards the opening ceremony. Once the football gets underway, let's hope that the action on the pitch is what dominates the reporting. After all, that is why we are here.

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