With just a week to go before the start of the 2012 European Championships, the BBC stands accused of spreading alarmism over concerns regarding crowd trouble and racism at this summers tournament. Patryk Malinski felt that there was plenty left to be desired in this particulate programme.
Last Monday evening the BBC broadcast their programme Panorama: the Stadiums of Hate in which they made a huge step towards biased and sensationalist journalism rather than objective, factual reporting. The BBC journalist, Chris Rogers, spent two months in Poland and Ukraine, the host nations of this year’s European Championships, and his main aim was to prove that football fans in both countries are mindless racists, and together with his guest, Sol Campbell, they tried to convince the viewers that going to those countries to watch the competition may somehow be unsafe and that potential fans from other countries may even risk their lives should they go to Poland and Ukraine. The programme, however, was so full of inaccuracies and generalisations and, as a Pole, I feel the need to respond.
The half hour long programme starts with a map of Europe which wrongly shows Austria as the neighbours of Poland instead of the Czech Republic. The same map also has Yugoslavia on it. The same Yugoslavia that ceased to be a country at the beginning of the 90s. You may think that this is irrelevant to the content and the message of the video but journalists of a serious station, which BBC certainly is, making such glaring errors with simple things like showing an inaccurate map of Europe should be questioned over bigger things like implying that there is danger in going to Poland for the European Championship this year. Surely they should know better, but who knows, maybe the BBC journalist simply doesn’t care about the lesser nations somewhere in the wilderness.
Chris Rogers starts his journey in Lodz, the city which will not be hosting any games, but which has one of the most intense derbies in Polish football – Widzew and LKS. One extract shows LKS fans chanting and the chant is translated as “Who’s not jumping is a Jew” but in fact it goes “Who’s not jumping is from Widzew” which, in my opinion, is barely racist or anti-semitic. You can trust me on this one, as I mentioned at the beginning I am Polish and Polish is my first language. I listened carefully with headphones several times to that part of the video.
Next, Chris Rogers goes to Rzeszow, a small town in the south of the country. Like Lodz, Rzeszow doesn’t even host any Euro 2012 games and its football teams, Stal and Resovia, currently play… at the third level of Polish football pyramid. You probably wouldn’t go there unless you were a devoted groundhopper and have already visited all Polish stadiums in divisions one and two. Why, then, did Chris Rogers go there? Possibly because two years ago some Resovia fans showed a huge banner which said “Death to the crooked noses”, and it is not a secret that “the crooked noses” is an anti-semitic reference to Jews. The fans responsible were sentenced after a year, which for the BBC journalism is the proof of the hidden tolerance of racist attitude in the Polish society. If he cared to do a bit more research he would have found out that it is rather a proof of how ineffective the Polish judiciary system and the whole administration is and that unfortunately many cases take much longer to be resolved. Besides, John Terrys alleged racist abuse of Anton Ferdinand took place in October and his trial won’t start until after the European Championships – will BBC make a programme implying that because it’s taking so long, the British society is covertly racist?
The most ludicrous moment came, however, with the reference to Widzew and LKS fans, that he was shocked to hear that football fans refer to their rivals as Jews. Really? He didn’t have to bother to go all the way to Poland to hear that – it would be much simpler to go to The Emirates, the football ground of Arsenal FC for their game with their North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
This article is not to say that racism or anti-semitism do not exist in Poland at all. They probably do within a minority of society and that minority will sadly but inevitably be reflected in a minority of football fans. It is a fact that some Widzew and LKS fans refer to each other as ‘Jews’ using it as a derogatory term and that Wisla fans use ‘Jews’ as a derogatory term for Cracovia. But as a balance it should be mentioned that Cracovia fans wear their ‘Jewish’ tag with pride, which I reckon is hardly anti-semitic, but this fact was not mentioned on the programme probably because it didn’t fit the Panorama assumption about Polish fans being racist and antisemitic. Nor were shown interviews that Rogers made with many black and foreign players that ply their trade in Polish clubs who said they do enjoy it here and haven’t had problems with racism. Somehow, the only Black player who makes it onto the programme Ugo Ukar, a former Widzew defender, who somehow says what Chris Rogers wanted to hear.
Finally, another problem I have with Panorama the Stadiums of Hate broadcast is that both Chris Rogers and Sol Campbell constantly refer to the hosts as “Poland and Ukraine” as if we were one country and one nation. What the programme shows in Poland is a few anti-semitic t-shirts in Krakow, and odd piece of graffitti on the wall in Lodz and a mistranslated chant. What it shows about Ukraine is violence towards an Asian group of spectators, monkey noises made towards black players and “sieg heil” salutes in the stands. I am not writing this to put the blame on our neighbouring nation, it’s just that I am not Ukrainan and have never even been there so I can’t speak for the ‘Ukrainian’ part of the programme. Neither Chris Rogers nor Sol Campbell cared to point out this difference in front of a camera and we are left feeling that both countries and societies have the same amount of racism in them.
As you know just after the European Championship, London will host the Olympic games. I wonder if Panorama will make a programme showing events that happened in London last summer: the violence, the smashing of shops’ windows, the looting, the vandalism, arson, chuck in some footage of the EDL manifestations – and warn families around the world to stay at home and watch the games on TV rather than risk their health and maybe even lives by coming to London f or the Olympic Games. I won’t be holding my breath, though.
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