To stop racism, UEFA must stop matches

If there is racist abuse from fans, then UEFA must stand with the players.

Not since two black US athletes raised their fists in solidarity with the civil rights struggle back home as they were awarded medals at the 1968 Olympics has a sporting contest been so overladen with the politics of racism as Euro 2012.

Already, the Dutch team complain that they have had to move their training matches elsewhere in Poland as black players have been the subject of racist abuse. Black English stars say their families cannot go to Ukraine for fear of meeting racism in the streets. In Baden Baden in 2006, where England stayed, the main street in the Black Forest spa had a giant banner in English saying, "Welcome and Good luck England." I watched as the Wags tottered on high heels on their daily shopping excursion. German store-keepers were interested in the colour of their money, not the colour of their soccer boyfriends' skins. Black players were treated as fellow Europeans.

Football, a sport that has done more than anything else to integrate non-white Brits as heroes of working class communities, will now be confronted with the moral test of either allowing racism in the crowds in Poland and Ukraine to surface or stamping on it so hard that the racists are forced to crawl back under their stones.

The fans come from all over Europe. Incidentally, problematic as racism and anti-Semitism are in East Europe, it is unfair to single out the two host countries. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece has a  following in working-class Athens where anti-immigrant feeling is part of the current turn to the extremes. The monkey sounds or the chant "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas" are heard far to the west of the Dnieper when fans want to discountenance black players or teams that have some vague Jewish connection. "I'd rather be a Paki than a Jew" is a West Ham chant and it was the Daily Mail that highlighted Avram Grant's Jewishness when the Israeli was Chelsea manager. Recently, as they pander to voters, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, and David Cameron have made speeches denouncing "multiculturalism". BBC Question Time provides a monthly platform for Nigel Farage to denounce immigration or the presence of too many foreigners in Britain. Why should soccer fans feel they have to be saintly endorsers of multiculturalism on the pitch or cheer immigrant players in the enemy team when their national leaders promote monoculturalism? The sectarianism in Scottish football between Rangers and Celtic fans was allowed to fester for decades with the Scottish FA and Scottish politicians and editors turning a blind eye. It is leadership, not blaming lumpen elements in supporters, that is needed.

David Cameron's shamefully late announcement that Britain would join Germany, France and other EU nations and boycott the opening matches because of Ukraine's brutal treatment of its former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko shows how politicised the tournament has become. UEFA boss Michel Platini may whine that it is about sport, not politics, but he is contradicted by his own organisation, which has announced a programme of monitoring on racism amongst fans in the run-up to and during Euro 2012.

Rafael Pankowsky, Poland's leading campaigner on anti-Semitism and racism, has been hired by UEFA to promote what the football federation calls its Respect agenda. But UEFA has to do more than monitor or hold post-final inquiries. If there are monkey calls or other examples of racist abuse from fans, then the matches have to be stopped. The fans should be evacuated by force from stadiums and the matches played to empty stands. Nothing else will do to cauterise the continuing racism in sport. Any player who feels racially abused must be supported by Roy Hodgson and other managers, so that teams walk off the pitch with their heads high, rather than allow racist abuse to go rewarded.

In 1970, Willy Brandt fell to his knees at the Warsaw Ghetto as an acknowledgement of where racist anti-Semitism had led to in German politics. Sometimes, great public symbols are needed to turn political life in a new direction. Football is run by some of the most selfish, greediest and stupidest men on earth. But even they know racism when it is heard and chanted in their faces. Maybe, and let's hope so, Euro 2012 will be about sport, not politics. But if a player and his mates stop play, rather than suffer racist abuse, the world will be with them and so should UEFA .

Denis MacShane MP is a former Europe minister. Follow him at @denismacshane or www.denismacshane.com

UEFA President Michel Platini attends the UEFA 2012 RESPECT Campaign launch at Warsaw National Stadium. Photograph: Getty Images.
Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and was a minister at Foreign and Commonwealth Office
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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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