Fans pay price for UEFA’s decision making

Many people far wiser than myself have extolled the virtues of keeping politics and sport separate. The only issue being that its right up there with “We can do that but it’s just sex and nothing else, ok?” as a sentence that is often much easier to say than it is to do.

The problem stems from the fact that sport is such a large vehicle today that itself is a form of politics with football, for example, almost representing on a micro level the political, economic and societal positives and negatives of a city, region or a country with players, owners and fans all playing a particular role in the show. Which brings us neatly to all things Euro 2012, Ukraine, Panorama and politics.

When Uefa awarded Euro 2012 to a pair of countries in Eastern Europe for the first time, it was widely applauded for broadening the horizons of the tournament and, as a kind of reward for the perceived political modernisation of the countries, the indirect factors large-scale tournaments bring in to a host country in the form of extra jobs for local workers and income from tourism.

In Ukraine for example, they have undertaken a massive construction programme in preparation for the tournament with two new stadiums, four airports and a whole high-speed train network being built with expenditure on preparations being estimated at £9.3bn; a huge outlay for a country with a small GDP. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have worked hard to bring their nation’s infrastructure up to scratch. All of this work has been guided, of course, by the Ukrainian government. Politics and sport at play in a positive sense.

On the other side of the coin, we see the negative side as the same government that supported the tournament has had its political and societal faults outlined by the media, activists and other governments.

From the threat of violence and racism towards travelling fans from Ukrainian hooligans outlined by the Sun, the BBC and Sky Sports, to the outcry over the effect the tournament will have on the booming Ukrainian sex industry and resultant women’s rights issues to the outrage expressed by the EU, Russia and Germany over the treatment of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko by President Viktor Yankovych, the political and societal ills of the country have been laid open for all to see.

Whilst, in theory, the awarding of a massive sporting tournament should just be about the football and nothing else, the reality is that all of these problems impact upon the sport through football’s links with each of the issues.

There have been suggestions of a boycott of Ukraine in response to these problems (particularly with regard to the fury of response regarding Tymoshenko, but this will not happen as it will be a disaster for UEFA. Perhaps the negative PR will shame Ukraine into tidying up its international image on human rights and divisions in its society (although it must be stressed these divisions seem to be solely visible through the prism of football) but at what cost to travelling supporters from across Europe?

Whilst some believe the racism issue has been overstated (and, to be fair, it’s a subject that tends to get close scrutiny before major tournaments in any country and if you looked hard enough in any European football league you would find verbal racist abuse at the very least), the simple fact that real violence is there and has been recorded on film. It is no coincidence that 10,000 English fans travelled to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, despite warnings of violence then too, but only 3,000 will be going to Eastern Europe.

Whilst we can all hope for the vast majority of Ukrainian and Polish people and for travelling fans that the tournament does go ahead smoothly, the onus is on UEFA to anticipate such large scale socio-political problems before selecting hosting cities, regardless of good intentions on spreading the word of football.



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