Right before the Euro 2012 was launched on June 8, Ukraine was accused of having a racism problem – a claim that some say has kept some foreign fans away.
In the first five days of the championship, there have been no reports of racist abuse, which makes the BBC Panorama report “Stadiums of Hate” seem like scaremongering. To make such claims is to make a storm out of a breeze, and it has had negative results. Fewer fans means less chance to exchange ideas, learn about new cultures and break down barriers. Emphasizing racism builds up unnecessary tension as well as provokes racist behavior from fans who might have never thought of it before.
Most Ukrainians did not even think racism would be an issue. Stas Stavisuik, a Ukrainian fan, said: “Compared to other countries racism in Ukraine is miniscule. I did not notice any racist accusations at the fan zone when there was a black player on the screen. Of course, you can find racism in Ukraine, but those instances are isolated from the norm.”
There are instances of racism based on skin color, but it’s no more concentrated than in England or the United States. True, many Ukrainians have not seen a black person. Yet, describing staring as a racist gesture is dangerously misleading.
Ukraine’s soccer federation chief, Hryhoriy Surkis, has accused the BBC of false accusations, stating that racism is infrequent in Ukraine and that England must take care of its own mess before quickly accusing Eastern European countries. Ukraine has, in fact, been welcoming immigrants from Africa and the Middle East in recent years and acting more as a center-stage for international interaction between the East and the West.
Europe can do better, and should understand that together with supporting their national teams in Ukraine they are also uplifting a country that has been long waiting for its Western neighbors’ support.