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Dutch Euro 2012 squad face 'monkey chants' in Poland

By Paul Armstrong and Ben Wyatt, CNN
June 8, 2012 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
  • Hundreds of people reportedly targeted black members of Dutch squad
  • Team had been training in a public session ahead of Euro 2012 kickoff
  • Poland and Ukraine co-hosting tournament amid claims of racism among its fans
  • European politicians boycotting games in Ukraine over human rights concerns

(CNN) -- The captain of the Dutch national team says his players were subjected to racial abuse at a training session in the Polish city of Krakow this week, just days before the Euro 2012 football tournament was due to begin in Poland and Ukraine.

Several hundred people out of a crowd of 23,000 reportedly targeted black members of the squad with "monkey chants" during an open session Wednesday at the Stadion Miejski, the home of Wisla Krakow.

"It is a real disgrace especially after getting back from Auschwitz (the Dutch squad had visited the concentration camp on Wednesday) that you are confronted with this," Netherlands skipper Mark Van Bommel told a press conference late Thursday.

"We will take it up with UEFA and if it happens at a match we will talk to the referee and ask him to take us off the field."

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When questioned over the incident by Dutch journalists who claimed they did not hear the abuse, Van Bommel replied: "You need to open your ears. If you did hear it, and don't want to hear it, that is even worse," according to ESPN.

The Netherlands are due to hold a news conference at 1715 GMT Friday in Poland followed by another training session in front of fans, according to UEFA's official website.

"UEFA has now been made aware that there were some isolated incidents of racist chanting that occurred at the open training session of the Dutch team in Krakow. UEFA has not yet received any formal complaint from the KNVB (Dutch football association)," read a UEFA statement.

"Should such behavior happen at further training sessions, UEFA would evaluate the operational measures to be taken to protect the players.

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"UEFA has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to discriminatory behavior and has given the power to referees to stop matches in case of any repeated racist behavior."

The KNVB released a statement Friday confirming it would not be making a complaint to UEFA.

"As at one moment there was a lot of noise coming from a specific stand, the team decided to train at the other side of the stadium, which was much quieter," the Dutch ruling body said of the incident on Wednesday.

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"A few players have heard sounds, which could be described as possible monkey chants. However, the training staff on the pitch were not aware of this. Although KNVB will not make an official complaint to UEFA, they are more than willing to answer questions of UEFA in this respect."

Poland's Sport and Tourism Minister told CNN that the incident was not racist, but involved a small hooligan element.

"As far as I know this is a very small hooliganism incident, not a racist one," Joanna Mucha said Friday.

"You can be sure that it is very marginal in Poland, you've got hooliganism all over the world in sporting arenas. It will not happen again -- if it does we will react appropriately."

Mucha said football supporters should not be afraid to come to Poland for the tournament.

"My message is you will be safe and you will feel safe in Poland. There is a huge security operation and we will manage to do it, to make you safe," she said.

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The buildup to the football showpiece, which kicks off in Warsaw on Friday, has been marred by a host of reports highlighting incidents of racial violence in the Eastern European nations.

The families of two of England's black players, Arsenal's Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, will not be traveling to Ukraine and Poland, while Italy and Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli says he will walk off the pitch if he is targeted by racists.

The England team is scheduled to train in front of 3,500 fans at the same stadium in Krakow on Friday.

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UEFA president Michel Platini says players must not take matters into their own hands, and that any player that walks off the pitch will be cautioned.

Referees will deal with racists

"It is a referee's job to stop the match and he is to do so if there are any problems of this kind. I count on the fans from Western and Eastern Europe to come to participate in a great football feast. If I am here as a UEFA chairman and you all are here it is because we want this to be a football feast, not a problem," he told reporters Thursday.

A recent documentary from the BBC featured right-wing supporters from both Poland and Ukraine displaying racist and anti-Semitic attitudes. The "Panorama" episode broadcast footage filmed at matches in both countries that purported to show fans displaying Nazi salutes in the stands and aiming monkey chants at black players. This prompted former England footballer Sol Campbell to warn fans not to travel to either country.

However, officials from the co-hosts hit out at the program. Marcin Bosacki, a Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman, told CNN it was "cheap journalism," while Volodymyr Khandogiy, Ukraine's ambassador to Britain, said it was "unbalanced and biased reporting about the situation in Ukraine."

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

"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."

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Aside from allegations of racism, the choice of Poland and Ukraine as hosts of UEFA's European international football competition -- an event which UEFA says will see 1.4 million fans travel to the region and a further 150 million television viewers tune in worldwide -- has drawn criticism from lawmakers of many EU nations, with some refusing to attend the tournament.

Concerns have arisen over the treatment of former Ukrainian prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed for seven years in October 2011 for abuse of office.

Tymoshenko, who was a leading figure in the 2004 Orange Revolution and had been on a 20-day hunger strike until last week, argues she has been victim of mistreatment and politically-motivated imprisonment driven by current president Viktor Yanukovych.

The Ukrainian prime minister, Mykola Azarov, denied the claims in an interview with CNN on Thursday.

"This is a mistake made by some politicians when they express their opinion without digging into the case. No one accuses Tymoshenko of her political decisions. Tymoshenko is accused of a concrete crime," Azarov said.

"There was no government decision which she is referring to when she signed an unfavorable gas contract for Ukraine. She falsified that government decision which means she committed the fraud. So it's not a political decision."

The situation prompted the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to announce they would be effectively boycotting the event: "No ministers will be attending group games at Euro 2012.

"We are keeping attendance at later stages of the tournament under review in the light of Ministers' busy schedules ahead of the Olympics and widespread concerns about selective justice and the rule of law in Ukraine," their statement read.

Foreign Secretary William Hague went further in an interview with the BBC, saying the UK government did not want its backing of the England football team to be interpreted as "giving political support to some things which have been happening in Ukraine which we don't agree with."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs told CNN the government will be meeting later Friday with the prime minister to discuss attendance by the nation's lawmakers at the tournament, while a German government spokesman confirmed that chancellor Angela Merkel would not be attending any of the first-round matches due to her time schedule.

Austria's Council of Ministers decided on May 2 to boycott all games held in Ukraine as a sign of solidarity with Tymoshenko.

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