Xenophobia and “The Beautiful Game” – How Hate is Manifested on the Pitch

Post by Erica Fagen

Euro 2012, co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, is just four days away.  As an England fan, I hope to see the team win and succeed. (Though that may be wishful thinking, considering England’s track record in recent years).  Buzz and excitement is in the air, with people taking their jerseys out, placing their bets, and looking forward to a good tournament.  However, despite all this excitement, and the camaraderie that sport brings, there is an ugly foreshadowing to Euro.  Concerns have been expressed over the warnings of xenophobic, racist, and homophobic taunts at football stadiums.  Some Polish gay football fans asked for separate seating at matches to avoid taunts from other football fans. Anti-Semitic football merchandise is being sold in Poland. Football has seen xenophobic behaviour before, the stories around Euro 2012 is just another chapter in this ugly side of football.

Franklin Foer, in his acclaimed book, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, highlights the fact that xenophobic slurs can be heard at football matches across Europe.  The Paris Saint-Germain stadium deals with crude chants, as does Chelsea’s.  Anti-Semitic taunts at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium have been talked about elsewhere.  Given the prevalence of xenophobia, racism, and homophobia in football, it makes us rethink the role of sport in society.  Is it really a uniting factor, as the Olympic mystique suggests?  The stories surrounding Euro 2012 not only make us reconsider sport culture, but how hate is discussed and handled in relation to professional sports.

With all these things said about Euro 2012 and other ugly incidents in football, it is important to note that individuals and organizations are taking a stance against various forms of hate in sports.  The Kick It Out Campaign seeks to “kick out” racism in sports, and a recent campaign of theirs featured Premier League stars like Frank Lampard speaking against hatred. This organization”s website also features a story about “Football Against Prejudices,” a Ukrainian organization comprised of anti-racist activists and football fans, who are telling tourists not to be concerned about neo-Nazi groups, as they will likely stay away from the big events.  They are dedicated to taking a stance against neo-Nazi activity and work closely with other organizations to monitor right wing activity. One of the organizations they are working with is FARE. FARE, or Football Against Racism in Europe, was founded in 1999 to combat any kind of discrimination in football.  This organization now has branches in more than forty countries.  These organizations, along with the humourous, anti-Nazi photographs I discussed in my last post, are also a kind of resistance against “the hate merchants.”  Dedicated to fighting xenophobia and discrimination in sports, they are key to consider when discussing how people counter hate in their midst.  Like the photographs on Flickr, these organizations show us that people are indeed taking a stance against racism, homophobia, and other forms of hate. Along with cheering for England during the Euro 2012 tournament, I will be sure to see how people combat hate in their midst, whether as a football superstar or dedicated football fan.

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