Panorama: Stadiums of Hate – a Polish fan’s response from the stands
Crossing the line is a tough thing to do, even if you step on someone’s foot or make a mistake that hurts. When the BBC aired their Panorama: Stadiums of Hate programme just few days before Euro 2012 kicks off, one would think that the state of Polish football is determined by what is happening on the stands. And if you are to believe the programme there is Nazism, racism and anti-Semitism everywhere.
Fortunately, there is a lot more positivity inside Polish football than what one could learn from the image created by the BBC. There are passionate fans, and there are fantastic people devoted to their clubs, living to the colour and crest represented by the team on the pitch. It is nothing different to what you can find in any other European country.
Unfortunately, there is also the bad side. There is the right-wing side, strongly politicized, wanting to influence young minds of those flowing into the stands of stadiums in Poland. The nationalism is preferred among ‘ultras’ groups, the country is seemed as the greater good, while the main assumptions are, indeed, too close to what was shown on the BBC on Monday night.
Yet this is still only a minority. This is not coming from someone that tries to disagree with the real evaluation of the problem, but a person that knows it too well and tries to understand it and then solve it; not just make cheap sensation out of it.
Sadly, the BBC programme went the other way in my view. It seemed to me that the makers came to Poland with a certain thesis, a line to follow and they just picked the games that were the obvious choices to make their point valid. Credit to the producers – they could not have picked better examples of displays of hate in Krakow and Lodz each time there is a derby football match.
Nonetheless, they asked for more. They went for the Krakow derby, they picked the Lodz derby, they reintroduced the problem of Rzeszow, a Polish football province.
Of course, the BBC producers have succeeded. They have made their material so good, so controversial, so infuriating, and so detailed that no one could question it – at least not those who live in the UK.
Just hours after the programme was broadcast, the very first reactions from Poland came to life. For example, there were reports the BBC allegedly did not use material, such as a police statement and statistics which are said to not support the claims made in the programme. Aviram Baruchyam, a Jewish midfielder of Polonia Warsaw, allegedly admitted that he never had a problem with Poles and their behaviour towards him, but this did not feature in final cut.
Why did they not interview Jewish footballer Maor Melikson, a fans favorite, who plays on the wing for Wisla Krakow? The same goes for Saidi Ntibazonkiza, Burundian striker of similar position to Melikson, but on the other side of Blonie park, at Cracovia.
The BBC did not include statistics which reveal that over the last three years, out of 460,000 British visitors not even one have reported a racist incident in Poland.
Of course, the problems mentioned in the programme are far from being solved. Though there are issues regarding flags used by different groups of fans, their activity and chanting throughout each game, the most worrying thing is the attitude.
Racism and anti-Semitism are sometimes visible in the stands of Polish stadiums. If someone is looking for them, it will be easy to find them – mentioning the influence of the right-wing groups is important, but the profile of a Polish football fan should not be based on that material.
Yet they, *we* are left aside without any help of the Polish FA and Ekstraklasa. At the last press conference organised by “Never Again” – an organisation fighting with all the problems shown by the programme – representatives of only two clubs showed up. Nobody from the league or federation decided to come and hear about the problems.
Even in the last season, the match observer from the PZPN decided to make fans take down an anti-communism flag, threatening to call the game off, yet on different occasions people with such power just leave the forbidden symbols unnoticed.
There are only rare actions taken by the football authorities in Poland against the biggest, yet decreasing, problem. There is no cooperation with fans, there is no encouraging them to report incidents, there is no idea how to punish those who are repeating abusive chants. Even after the Krakow derby, which was shown in the programme, Wisła and Cracovia were given relatively average fines for awful scenes throughout the ninety minutes. This is the real problem.
The BBC crew, however, in my view, were looking to confirm their thesis about “ Stadiums of Hate” in Poland and Ukraine. Showing these images, they have only proved to misunderstand that the differences between club and international football.
The “Fuck Euro” protests from the last few months of the season in Polish football presented on the stands with flags and in chants, are not expression of possible danger coming from local fans, but their disappointment in how the government acts, how the Polish FA works, and who manager Franciszek Smuda called up to the national team. They will be not present at Euro 2012 matches, simply because they are, or choose to be, rejected from the tournament. The stadiums for Euro 2012 will not be a place to look for hate.
The Polish reaction to the programme was negative – mainly because the episode was viewed as selective and written for the scenario that was viewed as being written even before the specifics of Poland and Ukraine were known.
But there is something Poles and Ukrainians can thank the BBC for. By making the problem much bigger than it is in reality, by showing that both countries are struggling with the issues, by compromising the governing bodies, they made them react. Strong reaction, even if forced, is needed to help fans prove that their response to, and disgust at, the Panorama show, is not based on empty promises and hopes. Because however scandalous and unfair the treatment was perceived to be during the programme on Monday night, it is now up to the hosts to prove the BBC wrong and the European championships are just the start.anti-semitism, bbc, EDL, euro 2012, far right, football, Krakow, Lodz, nazi, nazism, panorama, Poland, racism, stadiums of hate, Ukraine
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