screen shot BBC Euro 2012: Stadium of Hate
by Peter Gentle
Anti-Semitic chanting, monkey noises, Nazi graffiti and a former captain of England, Sol Campbell giving the juiciest of pull quotes - “Don't go to Euro 2012, or you might come back in a coffin”: the BBC's flagship documentary programme, Panorama, has it all.
But does the documentary, broadcast to a probably horrified audience in the UK on Monday, give a true picture of how dangerous it will be for Black, Asian, or Jewish fans visiting matches in Poland and Ukraine?
Many, including Poland's prime minister, complain that it paints a highly distorted picture of Poland and Poles.
"Nobody who comes to Poland will be in any danger because of their race. This is not our custom, as is not pointing out similar incidents in other countries, although we know they take place. In Poland, they're a rarity," Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters, Monday.
The controversial half hour programme is split into two halves – the first in Poland, the second in Ukraine.
In the first half, reporter Chris Rogers goes to derby matches in the central city of Lodz, then in Krakow – where England are based during Euro 2012 - and visits the Legia Warszawa ground in Warsaw.
In Lodz – which the reporter admits will not be hosting Euro 2012 matches - we see the disgusting spectacle of monkey chants being aimed at black players, with officials at the game apparently doing nothing about it.
There are also anti-Semitic chants: lots of them.
It's the same situation at a Krakow derby match between arch-rivals Wisla and Cracovia, the latter a club where hooligans self-identify themselves as Jewish – even though they are not – similar to the way some supporters of Tottenham Hotspur, a club in London that Sol Campbell once played for, by the way, still do.
Being Jewish is then used in some strange, weird ritual by the 'ultras' of Krakow and Lodz clubs, as a way to insult each other. No, it doesn't make any sense to me, either.
White Power symbols are shown near the Legia Waszawa stadium in Warsaw, where the programme points out that some of the 'fans' have links to far-right organisations.
All the above is true and well known in Poland, but many in authority seem to be turning a blind eye.
The programme then takes an even nastier turn in Ukraine, where there are scenes of Indian fans getting attacked by fellow club supporters at the Metalis Stadium in Kharkiv, a city which will host Euro 2012 matches.
A Ukrainian official does nothing for his cause by claiming to the BBC that there is “no problem at club matches in Kharkiv”.
Sol Campbell, a fine footballer who played for England 73 times during his long career, says of Polish and Ukrainian football hooliganism: “I know it was like this in England at one stage [just a little over 20 years ago, in fact] but, in the 21st century, this is on a completely different level.”
He then says: “The tournament should have never been given to these countries.”
I grew up in London and was made to watch the BBC Panorama programme by my parents almost religiously. Here was the finest, most accurate, balanced and least sensationalist programme there was, said my dad. It was seen as the very top of broadcast journalism, tackling, and breaking exclusives, on the weightiest issues of the day.
But Panorama has changed since its heyday in the 1960s, 70s, 80s.
The rather sober style has changed to something more brash, loud: it's got shorter by 20 minutes, too, and has been shoved around the schedule by the BBC for many years. Audiences have fallen.
scren shot youtube
And Panorama would never have got off to a bad a start in its pomp as Stadiums of Hate does, by displaying a map at 2.28 minutes into the programme of Poland sharing a border with … Austria!
Unless there have been huge changes in borders and peoples around Europe, in secret, that only the BBC knows about, then Austria does not border Poland.
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic has slipped south, and borders with a large country which appears to be Yugoslavia.
Maybe, Panorama's confused idea of the map of Central Europe is not such a big deal in the context of the vile imagery the programme presents: but imagine if you are a Pole watching this – and many have already on youtube – and having to take seriously a programme that doesn't even know which countries Poland borders with.
Another objection to the programme that I have heard here, is that the people who will be attending Euro 2012 matches in Poland are not the same as either regular, law abiding football fans who go to club matches, or the hooligans who blight the Polish game and keep huge amounts of fans from going to games.
Tickets for Euro 2012 were allocated by a lottery in Poland. Many, maybe most, of the people who applied online for tickets have never been to a football match in their lives.
It's the same as the majority of the crowd for the Equestrian event, or Beach Volleyball competition at the London Olympics have never had the pleasure before of seeing a top beach volleyball player up close and personal. Euro 2012 and London 2012 crowds will not be made up of the normal fan.
The much reported quote from the Panorama programme – Sol Campbell saying “don't go to Euro 2012, you might come back in a coffin” comes after he has been shown scenes by the reporter of anti-Semitic chanting and other horrors like Indians being beat up in Ukraine. The edited version of the programme we see, with a narrative that gets darker and more gruesome by the second – with no contextualising about what a normal day in Poland or Ukraine looks like, which is pretty normal – is awful enough. Sol just got to see individual scenes, all containing vile, Neanderthal behaviour.
So I do not blame him for thinking that Poland and Ukraine are going to mean Euro 2012 Goes To Hell. He probably thinks, lead on by the BBC programme makers, that the two host countries are exclusively populated by murderous anti-Semites and racists, when, in fact, they are just a pathetic minority.
So you can understand why politicians in Poland, and Ukraine, are concerned by this documentary. This is a PR car crash.
While the average Pole is disgusted with the hooliganism that goes on at football matches, it's not news to them and is reported widely here. Football hooligans are seen in the same way as they are in the UK, Germany, everywhere, and disgust greets each report.
The Polish football association (PZPN) is governed by the same rules that all other UEFA member nations are, and racist chanting is punishable with a fine for the club involved of 20,000 euro, as has already happened this year to both the Italian Juventus and Portuguese Porto clubs. So why was the monkey chanting at the ground in Lodz not reported and met with a fine, in that case?
And are Italy and Portugal not qualified to host a Euro football tournament, consequently, as Sol Campbell thinks Poland and Ukraine are not?
Polish journalists have long reported on PZPN's sluggish performance in cleaning up this kind of behaviour, and officials are apparently failing to implement UEFA regulations, as evident in the BBC documentary.
But believe me: it is possible to get through a single day here without ever having to confront a skinhead. The grounds during Euro 2012 in Poland will be safe and you will see, or hear, nothing like you see in Stadiums of Hate, because the idiots that go in for that sort of thing will not be there.
As far as Black or Asian or Jewish fans are concerned, you will feel as safe, or otherwise, as in most parts of Europe. Skinhead gangs do not regularly go for an afternoon prowl through the streets of Warsaw.
Poland does have its problems, as my Dateline Warsaw colleague Remi Adekoya excellently shows in this article in the Guardian, but this is not a country where neo-fascists rule the streets. Promise.