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Soccer pitch queered by racism

London: Racist abuse and neo-Nazi groups congregating at football stadiums have aroused ugly memories of 20th century fascism and dismayed the European governing soccer body.

This season Uefa have announced a 10-point plan, including threats of sanctions on clubs and supporters, to attack racism and have also launched investigations into two cases of alleged racist abuse.

Two Black England internationals — Emile Heskey and Ashley Cole — were appalled at the vicious tirades they were subjected to during an international between England and Slovakia in Bratislava in October.

Heskey was a particular target of the “fans”, who made monkey noises and gestures, while Cole said even stretcher bearers in the Tehelne stadium had insulted him.

“It was a shock that it was this bad,” said Heskey. “We’re in the year 2002 and you would think that everyone’s minds would have changed by now but it’s still the same. It’s very sad.”

Piara Power, co-ordinator of the British anti-racist group “Kick it Out”, says the problem applies particularly to the old Soviet bloc countries.

“They didn’t have those populations from Africa and Asia coming over, they are still coming to terms with the outside, this idea of people of colour coming in,” he said.

“Because football is a mass spectator sport, football stadiums are where neo-Nazi groups congregate and it is quite common in places like Hungary and the former Yugoslavia to see fans with neo-Nazi information outside stadiums because these countries were at the heart of Nazi regimes 50 years ago.

“We know, for example, in Poland and Hungary that neo-Nazi graffiti outside stadiums is very common.”

In Italy and Germany there is also evidence of racist abuse linked to far-right groups.

“Racism in Italian stadiums isn’t a novelty,” said a magazine produced by the anti-racist group Progetto Ultra. “During the early 90s, though, the phenomenon reached its highest peak, parallel to an increase of Right-wing factions.

“Those were the years of massive immigration, of loads of immigrants landing on our coast...of great social problems exploding so that rising xenophobia could flourish.”

Rome’s Lazio is the club most closely associated with hard-core racist supporters, although president Sergio Cragnotti has taken a lead by telling them they are simply no longer welcome at the Olympic stadium.

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