There will be a lot of racism on display at the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship. That's a fact. There is really no question about whether or not it’s going be part of the equation once the tournament kicks off on Friday; most of the intrigue, really, is in regards to how the Euro 2012’s powers that be plan to handle the inevitable problems that will pop up as a result.
On the heels of Italy striker Mario Balotelli saying that he will walk off the pitch if he is targeted by racists at any point over the course of the tournament, UEFA president, Michel Platini, offered this heartfelt response:
"It will be a referee's decision to stop the match. It's not a player --- Mr. Balotelli -- who's in charge of refereeing. Refereeing is a referee's job," said the former France international, who won Euro '84 as a player.
"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."
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You’ll recall that for Balotelli, this issue hits particularly close to home. Last year, the UEFA had to take action after he was subjected to abuse by opposing fans during a Europa League match.
Fortunately for all involved, Platini and his band of omnipresent officials won’t be the only people monitoring this situation. According to CNN, Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) will provide at least two international monitors for each of the tournament’s 31 games.
"This is the first major football event to be held in Eastern Europe in the modern era and it is one that we have been anticipating for a long time," its coordinator Rafal Pankowski wrote on FARE's website (via CNN).
"We have well documented issues with discrimination in football but I am also confident of the strong messages that will be sent out, and the contingencies we have to deal with problems.
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"There is also no doubt that the majority of the people of our countries will do their best to welcome visitors regardless of their background or nationality.”
In terms of non-soccer storylines to watch beginning this Friday, fan behavior will be a pretty huge one.