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Euro 2012 hosts Ukraine and Poland hit back at racism accusations

updated 3:20 PM EDT, Thu June 7, 2012
The spotlight is on Ukrainian and Polish fans after a BBC investigation alleged racism was prevalent in the stands
The spotlight is on Ukrainian and Polish fans after a BBC investigation alleged racism was prevalent in the stands
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Euro 2012 hosts Ukraine and Poland hit back over claims of racism in their countries
  • BBC investigation claimed racism and anti-Semitism widespread among football fans
  • Ukrainian ambassador to the UK says documentary was unbalanced and biased

(CNN) -- Euro 2012 hosts Ukraine and Poland have told CNN World Sport a documentary accusing football fans from both nations of racism was "unbalanced and biased."

An investigation by UK television channel the BBC featured right-wing supporters from both countries displaying racist and anti-Semitic attitudes.

Footage also appeared to show soccer fans at a match in Ukraine targeting Asian supporters with violence.

Former England defender Sol Campbell warned fans not to travel to Poland or Ukraine after seeing the pictures and questioned why both countries were awarded the tournament in the first place.

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But speaking to CNN World Sport, representatives from the governments of Ukraine and Poland said the show was misleading.

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"What was aired, in my personal opinion, is unbalanced and biased reporting about the situation in Ukraine," Volodymyr Khandogiy, Ukraine's ambassador to the UK, said.

"I would like to say we do not in Ukraine have a problem of that magnitude as it appeared on the screen.

"Racism and racial ideology is against the law and if those young fans were shouting anything close to Nazi slogans they would have been prosecuted.

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"Ukraine is very well known for its tolerance and it has a long history of living together with other nationalities. In our national football championship, roughly half of all the players are from Asian, African and Brazilian countries."

The Panorama episode broadcast footage filmed at matches in both Poland and Ukraine that purported to show fans displaying Nazi salutes in the stands and aiming monkey chants at black players.

Family members of two players in the England squad -- Arsenal pair Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain -- have already said they won't be going to the tournament due to fears over racism.

But Marcin Bosacki, Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman, told CNN the program was "cheap journalism."

He said: "There is a problem with racism and anti-Semitism in Poland but it is blown out of every possible proportion in this material.

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"They interviewed many people with balanced opinions and they complained today that their voices were not used in this program.

"Do you know how many British tourists come to Poland evry year? 500,000. And do you know how many reports they gave to the British Embassy and consulates about racism in the last three years? Zero.

"We are hospitable and treat all people who come here as friends."

What was aired, in my personal opinion, is unbalanced and biased reporting about the situation in Ukraine
Volodymyr Khandogiy, Ukrainian ambassador to the UK

UEFA claim taking high-profile tournaments to different places in Europe helps to tackle any problems regarding discrimination in the host country.

In a statement, soccer's European governing body said: "UEFA Euro 2012 brings the spotlight on the host countries and clearly creates an opportunity to address and confront such societal issues.

"UEFA's 'zero tolerance' approach to racism is still valid both on and off the pitch and ultimately the referee has the power to stop or abandon a match should racist incidents occur."

Piara Power, executive director of the Football Against Racism in Europe organization, said there was still plenty of work to be done in both Poland and Ukraine.

"I think we know the situation in domestic football in both Poland and Ukraine and I'm afraid the documentary hit the nail on the head -- it's a very bad situation," he said.

"Nevertheless there is some good work going at grass roots level to make sure that Euro 2012 inside stadiums does not resemble the sort of scenes we saw in the documentary."

Powar said that although the BBC's documentary had provoked a strong reaction in the UK, other countries involved in Euro 2012 would be concerned that UEFA do all they can to ensure a safe tournament.

"There will be mixed teams in the Netherlands, Germany, the French have a lot of black players," he added.

"I think all of those teams will be looking at themselves and saying what sort of safety precautions do we need to take? Do our relatives travel or do they stay behind and how do we respond to possible outbreaks of racism?

"We have a procedure with UEFA to deal with these sort of issues and we're fairly clear that it's a good procedure.

"It will work in the right way and I think we'll see a lot of teams and their fans probably getting sanctioned quite heavily by UEFA by the end of the tournament."

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