RACISM and human rights concerns loomed over the start of Euro 2012 yesterday as the continent’s premier international football event kicked off against a distinctly uneasy political backdrop.
Competition organisers UEFA acknowledged Dutch players were subjected to racial abuse during an open training session in Poland, while UK ministers have joined the ranks of senior politicians across Europe boycotting the initial stages of the tournament in response to the treatment by co-hosts Ukraine of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Members of the Dutch squad were subjected to monkey chants on Wednesday, with captain Mark van Bommel yesterday branding the incident “a real disgrace”.
Having initially been satisfied by the Dutch Football Association’s belief that the abuse was not racially motivated, UEFA announced yesterday(FRI) they had been made aware of “isolated incidents of racist chanting”.
European football’s governing body said in a statement: “UEFA has now been made aware that there were some isolated incidents of racist chanting that occurred at the open training session of the Dutch team.
“Should such behaviour happen at further training sessions, UEFA would evaluate the operational measures to be taken to protect the players.
“UEFA has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to discriminatory behaviour and has given the power to referees to stop matches in case of any repeated racist behaviour.”
It was reported the Dutch FA were not formally complaining and considered the matter closed.
Van Bommel told anyone who denied it was racially-motivated to “open your ears”, adding: “If you did hear it, and don’t want to hear it, that is even worse.”
There were already fears over racism at the tournament, with BBC’s Panorama programme last week highlighting the problem both Poland and Ukraine.
UEFA president Michel Platini said on Wednesday referees would halt or even abandon matches if there was serious racism from the stands during Euro 2012.
Meanwhile the Foreign Office confirmed the UK was following similar moves by other European countries, including Germany and France, and ministers would boycott games played in Ukraine - unless the human rights situation under President Viktor Yanukovych improved.
Ms Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years last year after what supporters claim was a show trial. The former prime minister staged a hunger strike in April after photos appeared showing bruises on her body.
A Foreign Office statement confirmed the boycott and added: “We are keeping attendance at later stages of the tournament under review in the light of ministers’ busy schedules ahead of the Olympics and widespread concerns about selective justice and the rule of law in Ukraine.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “There are serious problems of course in Ukraine - I think everyone is well familiar with those problems.
“So I hope for our team it’s a great sporting event but of course we don’t want people to understand that as giving political support to some things that have been happening in Ukraine that we don’t agree with.”
The Ukrainian ambassador to the UK called the snub “a misjudgment”.