Tuesday 29 May 2012

Addressing Racism

Last night, the shock factor was impressively employed by the BBC Panorama crew as it documented examples of violence and fascism in both Poland and Ukraine. These nations will jointly host the Euro 2012 Finals, which begin next week. The programme, called “Stadiums of Hate”, featured interviews with so-called ‘Ultras’ (a universal term for hardcore soccer fans). They support their respective teams by chanting throughout matches and brandishing club paraphernalia at every opportunity in order to intimidate opponents. According to the programme, other forms of support appear to include taunting Jews, giving a Nazi salute, and attacking individuals of minority ethnicity inside stadiums. The final sequence of the documentary showed vivid and shocking footage of an unprovoked attack on supporters of the same team.

This sensationalist portrayal of the host nations' attitude to sport has attracted much debate. Sol Campbell remarked during the programme that he would advise English fans against travelling to the competition, for fear of similar treatment at the hands of local fascist hoodlums. This reactionary statement has major consequences for the tournament’s organisers, and they have responded as we would expect. Markian Lubkivsky, the Ukraine’s Director of Euro 2012 labelled Campbell’s remarks “simply insolent”. Andriy Shevchenko also downplayed the evidence of widespread fascism in Ukraine’s soccer leagues.

The fact that the family of England’s Theo Walcott will not travel to the Euros is a premature blow to its legacy. Its message of inclusivity and camaraderie is spoiled by this family’s decision not to cheer on their relative in person. If racism and xenophobia are to be overcome, perhaps it might be better to address the problem with joined-up forces and a sense of determination. To allow racists the satisfaction of staying out of their way can be unhelpful.

John Terry is awaiting trial for a charge of racially aggravated words or behaviour under s.31 (1)(c) Crime and Disorder Act 1998. (In full, ‘using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress’ in a manner which is racially aggravated). This former England captain will travel to Poland and Ukraine to represent his nation on the continent. He is an ambassador for the F.A., yet he faces resounding allegations of racism. Of course, John Terry is innocent in law until proven guilty at trial. The appropriateness of his continuing to be allowed to play for his country under these circumstances is questionable nonetheless. The gravity of the charge and his profile within English and European sport arguably suffice as reasons to warrant at least a suspension until the trial has been concluded. This would send out a message of mature responsibility and zero tolerance. It seems, however, that the English Football Association has prioritised its team’s prospects at Euro 2012 over its moral standing on an international level. To act thus when an English player’s family will not travel for fear of racial abuse could be viewed as a somewhat inappropriate and inadequate measure.

Monday 14 May 2012

No More Traffik

An article I wrote recently was published today on the rightsni.org blog. It deals with the invisible shame of human trafficking in Northern Ireland.