The Dark Side Of Euro 2012

While the Russian football team has been dazzling on the pitch, many of its fans have disgraced modern football in brutish acts of hooliganism.

While the Russian football team has been dazzling on the pitch, many of its fans have disgraced modern football in brutish acts of hooliganism. However, it was the deeper rooted attacks of Tuesday that began to unearth the nationalist and organised roots of the violence. The first instance of violence from Russian fans was violence for violence€™s sake. Four stewards were assaulted for trying to dispose of a flare, for doing their job. Part of the attack was filmed showing many fans circle one of the stewards, who was beaten to the floor, like a pack of ravenous dogs. This attack should not be marginalised, although, the scenes on the streets of Warsaw on Tuesday confirmed what many feared before the Euro€™s kicked off. Organised, gang violence. The Polish interior minister said Russia vs Poland would present the €œgreatest ever challenge€ or Warsaw€™s police. He was correct. Before the match, the Russian fans were permitted to march across the Poniatowski Bridge, in central Warsaw, to celebrate Russia Day. The day is designed to commemorate the fall of the Soviet Union, nevertheless, it was inevitably going to be provocative to Poles who had endured decades of suffering under Soviet rule. The march was permitted and formally announced to much criticism. The conservative Polish daily Rzeczpospolita said of the occasion, €œMarch or street war?€ It is to the Polish authorities detriment that they allowed this march to take place without being able to properly police it. Even though the march was intended as a celebration, it was clear than many had not come for that reason. Instead, they were intending to provoke. Some Russia fans sported flags that stated €œThis is Russia€, a potential taunt to Polish onlookers. Even more blatant was the brandishing of an old Soviet flag, a sure sign of provocation. Additionally, it appears the reaction was not a spontaneous riposte to the march. Following the attacks on stewards on Friday, Polish gangs have apparently seen this as a chance to organise a response. One eyewitness said, €œAs the march came across the bridge, the Polish hooligans ran towards them. They had been waiting for them.€ This statement confirms one of the greatest fears we were all aware of before Euro 2012, and one UEFA always played down. Fights also broke out in the fan park in Plac Defilad square. When the police did arrive to the scene, they were successful in eliminating the violence with the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and water canons. However, these are scenes that appear to have been somewhat avoidable because the tension was obvious. As many feared, gang violence has emerged to tarnish what has been a fantastic start to Euro 2012. The involved Russian and Polish fans have, of course, come under national and international condemnation. UEFA and the Polish government have vowed to punish those involved. In hand with multiple claims of racist abuse, the pre-tournament speculation was sadly correct. Sport has the power to do incredible things. Euro 2012 is not one of these events. It will take a much greater effort to dissolve these deeply rooted problems. UEFA and the host countries are now facing damage limitation efforts, rather than a complete focus and celebration on football.
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London-based charity worker, writer and guitarist. Big wheel at the cracker factory. Follow Jamie on twitter @jamiemccloskey1