Polish top flight launch anti-racism campaign
Polish football clubs will launch a landmark anti-racism campaign during this weekend's top flight action, the country's league said Thursday, as Euro 2012 puts stadium racism and hooliganism in sharp focus.
In a joint statement, the 16-club Ekstraklasa -- Poland's first division -- and the Warsaw-based body Never Again said that announcers would read out anti-racism messages ahead of the weekend's games.
The Ekstraklasa said it was responding to an appeal by Michel Platini, head of European football's governing body UEFA.
"The Ekstraklasa fully supports the battle against racism in football, through activities promoting tolerance and fair play in all the stadiums of Poland's first division," it said.
Rafal Pankowski of Never Again, who also runs a regional monitoring unit for the UEFA-backed Football Against Racism in Europe network, hailed the move.
"The involvement of the Polish league and clubs in an anti-racist campaign of this scale for the first time is quite an historic event for Polish football and society," Pankowski told AFP.
"It doesn't happen in a vacuum, it follows a series of racist and anti-Semitic incidents which showed yet again that Polish football had a problem with racism," he said.
"More importantly, the eyes of the world are on Poland as a Euro 2012 host so Polish football needs to tackle the issue of racism head on rather than sweep it under the carpet," he added.
With the 2012 European Championships -- which Poland will host along with neighbouring Ukraine -- now just eight months away, the issue of racist abuse and hooliganism are in the spotlight.
Never Again has underscored the crossover between violent fans and the far-right, which it says is an explosive mixture.
It regularly logs incidents in and around stadiums and has compiled a series of reports, pushing the authorities to take a firmer stance.
In addition to abuse directed at black players, far-right and anti-Semitic banners and slogans are notably shocking given the region's World War II history, when millions perished at the hands of occupying Nazi Germany including the overwhelming majority of its Jews.