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
Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.