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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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear