Sol Campbell, advised English fans to stay at home in order to prevent getting targeted by racist violence. Image:

Okategoriserade Right wing extremism. Conceived football hooliganism

Nationalist and anti-Semitic symbols, racist statements and the making of monkey sounds when black players enter the plan are a few examples of what goes on the football fields in Ukraine and Poland. Racism and intolerance are not exclusive problems for the two countries hosting the football championships, but a shared concern for Europe.

Published on on June 27, 2012

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The former captain of the English football team, Sol Campbell, provoked strong reactions before the start of the EURO 2012 as he questioned that Ukraine and Poland had been allowed to host the European Championships. In the BBC documentary Panorama on racism at the football arenas in Poland and Ukraine, Campbell stated that the two countries have not taken sufficient action against racism and hate-crimes and consequently had not proven themselves worthy of organizing the prestigious Championships.[1] Nationalist and anti-Semitic symbols, racist statements and the making of monkey sounds when black players enter the plan are a few examples of what goes on the football fields in Ukraine and Poland.   

The critique was as much an accusation of the UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations, of not taking it’s own guidelines against racism seriously when selecting hosts for the European football tournament.[2]  UEFA responded immediately by saying that the Euro 2012 sets the light on the hosting countries and renders a discussion possible on racism and xenophobia. UEFA stated that there is zero tolerance on racism during the European football championships.  Since Campbell advised English fans to stay at home in order to prevent getting targeted by racist violence representatives from UEFA stated that racist violence in the two hosting countries is restricted to local championships and not as prevalent in international matches. According to Oleg Voloshyn, a spokesman from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry fans visiting Ukraine have nothing to fear, and rhetorically accused the English footballer and other critical voices, for applying double standards. “Nazi symbols can be seen at … any match in England, but does it mean that fans should not come to London for the Olympics?,” he said.

Racist violence in and around Ukrainian and Polish football is not an invented or mythical problem according to the report “Hateful”, in which racism, discrimination and hate crime in Polish and Ukrainian football is monitored during the period 2009-2011. Rather, it is neglected and ignored: “Denial remains a common feature of public political discourse in the region; it is amazing to note that even in the face of the overwhelming evidence presented activists still too often encounter a refusal to accept even the most obvious problems” writes Piara Powar, executive director of FARE East European Monitoring Centre in the introduction to the report.[3][3] The FARE project has been led by the Polish organization ‘NEVER AGAIN’ and according to their spokesman Rafal Pankowski the “figures are only the very tip of the iceberg but they demonstrate the scale of the problems of racism and intolerance we face in Eastern Europe. We found that hatred of Jews remains a point of principle for many fan groups in Poland, even though the Jews is a tiny minority of the population”. More than 200 incidents are described in the report including fascist and racist symbols, anti-semitic, anti-black, anti-muslim and homophobic outbursts.

As long as football has been played violence and (masculine) aggression have been constant companions to the football. Men from rival villages fought as much about the ball as over other conflicts on personal pride and land disputes in the medieval times. Modern football hooliganism originated in England in the 1960s and spread over Europe in the 1970s and escalated over the following decades and is currently a pan-European phenomenon. Various explanations – social, psychological and cultural – have been given for football related violence. A common feature is that football violence –physical or verbal –  are manifestations of individual and non-organized social frustrations and opposition.  However, what also is the case is that football once again is an environment for the recruitment of new supporters and members as well as for the mobilization of organized activities by right wing movements and political parties.  The right-wing extremist groups are increasingly taking interests in the European youth and subcultures. Neo-Nazi dropouts report that they have joined right-wing organizations through music and certain subcultures. In the past years, right radicalism has time and again found its way into international football stadiums. This is not a completely new phenomenon and not exclusive for the radical and/or extreme right. Opposition to the communist regimes was voiced in various subcultures such as punk and underground music as well as within the football environments in Central and Eastern Europe during communism.  The football clubs constituted the organizational platform for Silvio Berlusconi when he formed the new party “Forza Italia” in the beginning of the 1990s when the old Italian party system imploded. In the 1980s football was an arena for right wing extremism in Western Europe and now this is the case in Central and Eastern Europe. That is, football has been an arena for the expression of political frustrations as well as for manifesting – more or less – politically subversive and incorrect opinions that resourceful political entrepreneurs can transform into political actions.  That is in itself a reason why these expressions should be taken seriously.

So, why the fuzz about right wing extremism in Ukraine and Poland (and other former post-socialist states) when it exists in the west as well? There are several possible explanations. Firstly, a political cultural divide has replaced the cold war Iron Curtain in the new Europe.  Whereas the CEE states have adapted to EU standards as regards the market economy, rule of law and democratic procedures resistance has prevailed against the liberal values perceived to be imposed by the EU: Gender equality, same-sex marriages, gay rights, minority or equal rights for ethnic minorities (the Roma population in particular). That is, not only marginal and extremist groups give voice to hate speech on and intolerance to gay persons, ethnic minorities, but officials representing government and the administration do that as well – openly or tacitly, i.e., conservative and nationalist political parties and the police. More precisely, action – be it physical or verbal – is not taken against groups voicing hatred and discrimination within or in close connection the football arenas. 

Secondly, there is a growing difference between right wing radical parties – nationalist, conservative and/or populist – in the western and eastern parts of Europe. Irrespective of their backgrounds these political forces foster a national community by “othering” groups that are perceived to threaten the ethnic, cultural and linguistic homogeneity of the state. The Jew, the Muslim and the Roma are in the European nationalist rhetoric the main enemies to the monoculture and mono-ethnic state. Whereas anti-Semitism still is strong in eastern nationalism, it has been toned down in the western parts of Europe. The Austrian FPÖ, the French Front National and the Sweden Democrats – to mention a few – have over the last decades replaced anti-Semitism with anti-islam.  Increasingly, the radical right is pro-Israel in their opposition to Islam as a threat to security, as well as to European culture.  The opposition to Islam is often connected to the rhetorical defense of European liberal values, such as human rights, gender equality and freedom of speech. The radical right parties present themselves as the true defenders of Europe and European values in contrast to liberal political parties embracing immigration and multicultural European identity. With an eye to the upcoming European parliamentary elections of 2014 attempts are made by some of the European radical right political parties to formulate a common political platform on anti-EU, anti-immigration and anti-Islam, but they fiercely reject to side with political parties that give voice to anti-semitism and strong expansive nationalism (as for instance Ataka in Bulgaria and Jobbik in Hungary). They construct a line of division between what they term as “old” and “new” nationalism in order to differentiate themselves from nationalist parties in Eastern Europe as well as from their own historical pasts.

Racism and intolerance are not exclusive problems for the two countries hosting the football championships, but a shared concern for Europe. However, the reception in Poland and Ukraine of the concerns and criticism voiced particularly by organizations, think tanks  and  mass media in the west has not been up to what could be expected. The public officials in the two host countries have been surprisingly reluctant to speak about past and present oppression and discrimination of minorities. The governments in Ukraine and Poland have instinctively rejected charges of racism and anti-semitism.  Maybe the prevailing self-image of themselves as historic victims and not as well as active participants in the cruelties committed against minorities  – Jews, Roma and others during the wars – is part of an explanation.  Rafal Pankowski, representing the Polish organization Never Again believes that “Euro 2012 is a positive opportunity to put anti-racism in the mainstream of public discussion”. Not only in Poland and Ukraine.  Russia, which has similar experiences of football racism as Ukraine and Poland, will host the World Cup in 2018 and can only benefit from any lessons that are learned.


  1. Interview with Sol Campbell in the BBC Documentary Panorama 2012-05-28. (
  2. Unite Against Racism In European Football A guide to good practice, UEFA and FARE (