June 7, 2012
Platini weary of off-field tensions
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
WARSAW - Michel Platini is happy that the soccer is about to start.
Then maybe he won't continually have to answer non-soccer questions.
Football's new Mr. Surly, the UEFA president, is nervous although he won't admit it. He's nervous about some of the political and social issues that are stealing the headlines from Euro 2012.
The most notorious is racism.
But there is another issue that has raised its head. It concerns Russian fans who want to celebrate their national pride and solidarity on Polish soil.
Next Tuesday, before Russia's game against Poland in Warsaw, several thousand Russian fans want to march through the city to honour what is a national holiday in Russia.
About 5,000 visas have been issued to fans from Russia but more than 25,000 Russians are expected to attend the games.
"Traditionally, the march is accompanied by drums and chants of 'Forward Russia,' " Ivan Kuznetsov, a spokesman for the Russian All-Union supporters club, told a Polish newspaper.
"We also want to organize a march before the match between Russia and Greece on June 16."
There is some concern that confrontations may occur, although organizers say there is nothing political about the march.
But hard feelings are rarely forgotten and they often surface at international matches.
The issue of racism and prejudice is gnawing at Euro like a hungry dog at a bone.
There have been many cases, especially in Ukraine, of sections of fans giving Hitler salutes. Fans in both countries have made monkey noises and thrown bananas at black players. It's an issue that's not restricted to Ukraine and Poland. Virtually every soccer nation in Europe has had to deal with it.
But Euro takes place on the world stage.
Platini has said racism is a global problem not just a soccer problem.
But it has been brought to the forefront this time because a number of players have said they wouldn't put up with bigotry. Some have told their family not to attend games at Euro because of a fear of what they might encounter.
Others such Italian Mario Balotelli has said he would walk off the pitch. Make no mistake about that, he is one player who would walk off the pitch.
"It's a yellow card. It's not a player -- Mr. Balotelli -- who's in charge of refereeing. It's the referee who takes these decisions," Platini said.
But Platini went on to say that UEFA has instructed referees to deal with the issue.
"So the referee has been given advice and he can stop the game if there are problems," Platini said.
The kickoff to the tournament can't come soon enough for the UEFA president.