In the run-up to the Euro 2012 football championship now one month away, much attention is focusing on racism among fans and the potential for violence in co-host nation Poland.
The assumption is that Poland’s hard-core hooligan groups will cause trouble during the championship and abuse foreign fans and players.
Theo van Seggelen, secretary general of players’ union Fifpro, told the BBC recently he was not “100% convinced” that “accidents” would not occur both inside and outside stadiums if the majority of fans watching the matches came from the co-host nations, Poland and Ukraine.
Racist incidents do still occur in grounds across the country but mainly in the lower leagues and they are more infrequent than before.
The Never Again association monitors racism in Poland and its booklet, Hateful, gives a flavour of incidents at grounds.
It describes a derby match from November 2008 in Krakow between the city’s teams, Cracovia and Wisla, whose rivalry is such that it is described here as a “holy war”.
Israeli footballer David Biton of Wisla Krakow celebrates scoring against Ruch Chorzow
Some Wisla fans sang an anti-Semitic song about the supposed Jewish origins of their rivals and when a Cracovia player left the pitch, fans shouted: “To the gas chambers.”
When the match ended Wisla players went over to their fans to thank them, some of them making obscene chants about Jews.
Beforehand, some Cracovia fans made monkey noises at Wisla’s Brazilian player, Cleber, when he was sent off.
But this is not the whole picture. Wisla now have two Israeli players in their first team, and one of them, David Biton, is the club’s top scorer this season.
Most teams have foreign players these days and when they score, whether they are white, black or Jewish, the supporters cheer.
‘Monkey, go back’
According to a recent Fifpro survey of professional players in Eastern Europe, 9.6% of respondents said they had been victims of racism, mainly from supporters. In Poland, the figure was 9.5%.
In the region, 11.7 % of respondents said they had been victims of violence from fans, coaches and management. In Poland the corresponding figure was 6.3%.
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I don’t know whether it’s racism or whether people are not used to seeing black people”
Brazilian midfielder for Polonia Warsaw
Senegalese defender Pape Samba Ba, 30, was assaulted twice in Opole, south-west Poland, when he played for the city’s Odra Opole club.
“I started playing here more than six years ago and then they didn’t have the security,” he told the BBC.
“The fans would scream ‘monkey, go back to your country’. Now it’s changing, the stadiums are getting better.”
Bruno Coutinho, 26, a Brazilian midfielder for Polonia Warsaw who plays in Poland’s top-flight Ekstraklasa division, has never been a victim of racism and says he has a good relationship with his teammates and coaches.
But he did witness racism while playing for Jagiellonia Bialystok in north-eastern Poland in 2009.
“They signed an 18 or 19-year-old black guy from Colombia,” he told the BBC.
“During a pre-season friendly match some of our own fans were making monkey noises at him. It was the first time I had experienced anything like that.”
Coutinho’s dark-skinned brother recently visited him in Warsaw.
“We were walking in the centre and people would look at him like a person from another planet,” he recalls.
“I don’t know whether it’s racism or whether people are not used to seeing black people. I’m not saying it’s everyone or everywhere.”
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