This isn’t the first piece on the internet on the issue, nor, I fear, will it be the last. But it’s time we some space on this website was set aside to poke around at Czech football’s reaction to the current humanitarian crisis.
Last night saw the second round of fixtures in the Europa League, and per an ECA initiative that was adopted by UEFA, a small percentage of the gate receipts for last night’s games (and those that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Champions League) will be donated to refugee charities.
Sadly, this commendable action has widely been spat on in certain parts of Eastern Europe and yesterday, Letna was no different.
Yesterday’s boycott was the latest in a long line of bizarre and uncalculated actions that have frankly left Czech football looking rather daft. There’s a saturating sense that those people hoisting up anti-refugee banners and boycotting football games have the wrongly held belief that Muslim=Terrorist. This fear of The Other has recent farcical points at times and perhaps the most pertinent and repulsive example of this was when Plzen fans hoisted up a chilling banner crying for Europe to wake up to the “Islamification” of the continent in clear view of Aidin Mahmutovic. Luckily for the Bosnian striker, you get the impression that because he’s ‘one of our own’ he’s okay. Everybody else, on the other hand, is fair game for abuse.
To go off tangent slightly, that instance reminded me of the abuse that Theo Gebre Selassie received during one game between Slovan Liberec and Sparta Prague. Racist chanting was clearly heard on the television but people tried to sweep it under the carpet saying it was aimed at Michal Breznanik (now of, erm, Sparta) and anyway how could it be racist as we have Leo Kweuke on our books.
Plzen weren’t the only club to display a lack of compassion or understanding. Jablonec and Sigma Olomouc supporters have got in on the act, whilst Prague has played host to demonstration and counter demonstration and battle lines have been drawn.
Posting on Facebook on the 29th September, the Ultras Sparta group posted their definitive statement on the issue, advising everybody to distance themselves from the Sparta-APOEL tie. “The reason is the nasty political mafia organisation of UEFA,” they said.
Their vitriolic post went on, claiming that refugees are “flooding the old continent” and that they can afford to see Sparta lose three points in the Europa League but they simply cannot stand by and witness old Europe being stolen from under their noses. Obviously they’re still pretty torn up about the loss of the Holy Roman Empire and filled with rage about the ACTUAL ANNEXATION OF A EUROPEAN PENINSULA that hundreds of thousands of refugees wanting to claim asylum in a safe place away from war is the tipping point that’s sent them over the edge.
Sparta’s supporters weren’t the first group to make such a plea. A fortnight earlier Plzen had played Dinamo Minsk and whilst fans flocked to the Doosan Arena, they remained unusually muted in their own little protest at the charitable drive.
Luckily the actions of the Prague-based ultra group didn’t make the blindest bit of difference in real terms. Sparta’s attendance last night was 2,000 more than their last home game and the boycott hasn’t attracted the attention of the western media in the same way that Lech Poznan’s own stay-at-home supporters did.
If anybody in this sorry mess deserves a pat on the back it’s those guys who carefully managed the situation online, minimising the backlash of their own fans whilst still publically stating they were taking part in the initiative.
Part of the strategy was to provide information about the ECA directive via their international social media account, the one profile that is more likely to be followed and viewed by those outside of the Czech Republic therefore minimising their ‘domestic’ audience running riot on the issue. They’d judged the feeling well, ticked enough boxes not to seem disinterested or aloof.
Unfortunately a few tweets and comments appeared underneath the English-language story, again which highlighted the ignorance surrounding this topic.
UEFA is by no means perfect, but the notion that UEFA has put every club chairman on the rack and pressure them to acquiesce is plain wrong. A statement posted on the ECA’s website said the following: “The ECA Executive Board decided to take action in support of the refugee crisis and help the many people that are in need. The Executive Board’s plea was endorsed by the present member clubs.” And despite being pointed off in that direction, people were still willing to lay the blame at UEFA’s door. Those rotten continental scoundrels!
Who makes up the ECA you ask? Well, representatives from 160 clubs were present at the assembly where the 90 Minutes for Hope initiative was passed and here are just three of the member clubs: Sparta Prague, Viktoria Plzen and Slovan Liberec.
But it’s much easier to blame The Other, rather than blaming your own isn’t it?
I’m fully aware that I’m writing about this as an outsider looking in. I’m not present in the country with my ear on the ground and aware of the day-to-day nuances of the debate, or fully up to speed with the fears and trepidation of the country. I’ve tried, but the lack of compassion mystifies me.
There is no thought or reasoning (let alone logic) in the debate and time after time I’ve witnessed news stories that make some sections of the Czech population seem like they’ve given Katie Hopkins inspiration for some for her most ludicrous and disgusting statements. To give the most prominent example, a Viktoria Plzen supporter was quoted by Denik Sport claiming that ‘economic locusts from Africa and the Middle-East‘ were undeserving of help.
People fleeing from war zones and getting bombed and shot at from all sides aren’t economic migrants, yet people are willing to say they are because it’s a buzzword with negative connotations. But even then there’s the right kind of migrant and the wrong kind of migrant, and by and large it’s not about where you’ve come from; it’s about your colour and creed.
And this is from a country that rightly honours Nicholas Winton who helped save Czech refugees who were fleeing from the Nazis.
I’ve met many wonderful people during my time meandering through the country and been helped along my way by countless people in train stations, pubs, restaurants and tourist information centres when I’ve struggled to get to grips with the language. Hopefully everybody will be afforded that generosity at some point and then you can all get back to poking fun at my terrible pronunciation.
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 3rd October 2015