It is hard to understand that with less than an hour until today’s opening ceremony that the debate over racist chanting, from elements within the host nation support primarily, is still raging. It is clear and it has been for years that areas of Eastern Europe has had issues with racism rearing its nasty voice. We have had incidents of this in both Champions League and Europa League competition as well as qualifying games for international competition. UEFA will generally pass a derisory fine to the offending clubs and off we go again. The problem has never been fully dealt with and in the governing body’s desperation to transport the game to the far flung reaches of the ‘footballing family’ nations under the guise of inclusivity, it seems that corners have been cut and principles abandoned. But why am I surprised since FIFA gave the 2022 World Cup tournament to Qatar! And call me a cynic but aren’t Ukraine and Poland two of the few economically developing nations in Europe?

To compensate for this somewhat desperate decision and UEFA’s abdication of responsibility, they have now passed the onus of control on to match referees. Instead of ensuring that the relevant footballing, policing and legislative authorities get tough on these issues, root out the troublemakers and administer appropriate sanctions, the match officials have received “instructions” on how to deal with incidents of racist chanting/behaviour within stadia. If it gets too much, the referee has been advised that he can remove the players from the field of play. How utterly ridiculous and on so many levels.

Firstly at what point does this happen? Does the racist abuse towards an individual player or group of players have to be tested for severity or emotional stress? What if a team is losing and facing elimination from the tournament? Do the players of that team succumb to the temptation of getting the match abandoned? Conversely what if the fans of the losing team decide that it would be best to influence the tournament outcome by having matches routinely abandoned or delayed? Imagine the final group games when two matches of each group are played at the same time. Would a 20 minute delay due to racist chanting allow sufficient advantage to any team by allowing them to find out what the score is in the other match?

The whole situation is one that was wholly avoidable from the outset. England has been a pioneer in handling racism and violence in football and yet UEFA shudder at the thought of having anything to do with the English authorities. Knowledge sharing could have assisted in dealing with this issue if indeed UEFA were really adamant in holding the tournament in these nations. What should definitely not be happening is for UEFA to dump this issue into the laps of the referees who are there to officiate the matches. For such a prestige tournament to go ahead under this cloud is unacceptable and leaves yet another stain over the objectives, credibility and principles of UEFA.

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