Dutch team hears racist chants at Euro practice
WARSAW, Poland -- The Netherlands soccer team says it was subjected to monkey chants by Polish fans during practice, an outburst of racism at the European Championship even before the first game was played.
"It is sad that we have to talk about this -- we don't need this," said retired Dutch soccer great Ruud Gullit, who is black.
The showcase tournament began Friday, and the prospect of fan racism has been a prominent concern since Euro 2012 was awarded to Poland and Ukraine in 2007.
Two Netherlands players, Mark van Bommel and Ibrahim Afellay, were quoted Thursday as saying that members of the Dutch squad were taunted with racist chanting by a group of spectators at an open training session.
"We heard it because we were jogging right by the stands," team captain Van Bommel said.
The Dutch soccer federation didn't file a complaint to European soccer's governing body. UEFA said Friday it had been informed there were "isolated incidents of racist chanting" and it will take action if there is a repeat of such abuse.
There was a party atmosphere in Warsaw leading to the opener between Poland and Greece. But while UEFA on Friday attempted to play down the events at the Dutch camp, frustration and anger are certain to persist despite assurances by Polish and Ukrainian governments that racism is being confronted.
"The two countries have worked very hard to organize this tournament and we should not disturb this because 10 people are chanting in a stadium," UEFA spokesman Alexandre Fourtoy said.
Van Bommel said the chants came from one end of the stadium in Krakow as the Dutch squad trained Wednesday before about 25,000 spectators before leaving to face Denmark in their Group B opener Saturday at Kharkiv, Ukraine. Such was the disgust among players that they moved to the other side of the field.
"We will not accept that one of us is confronted with monkey chants," Van Bommel said in Friday's edition of De Telegraaf. "We will point it out to the referee and if such chants are heard again we will ask him to intervene."
Afellay, a black winger, told the newspaper the jeers "saddened him."
The practice came only hours after the team -- which for decades has reflected the nation's multicultural makeup -- made solemn visits to the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps close to Krakow. The southern city was never a candidate city to host matches at the Euros.
"I don't think that if you are frustrated about not having the tournament in your city, you do it (complain) in this way," said Gullit, who was speaking at an event at the Polish foreign ministry about the UEFA-backed RESPECT Diversity campaign.
Insisting there was still no proof or evidence that the racist abuse actually occurred, Fourtoy said UEFA will consider managing the open training sessions.
"We are more worried that this incident could be given disproportionate importance," he said. "I think it's unfair for Poland and Ukraine to be considered racist countries -- South Africa in the 1980s was a racist country."
A recent British television documentary, "Stadiums of Hate," fueled concerns about fans' behavior at club matches. The program was shown in Poland this week and the issue dominated questions at the first news conference of UEFA President Michel Platini at the tournament.
Platini promised that referees will stop matches if players are subjected to racist abuse. But he also warned players they would be shown a yellow card if they acted alone by walking off the field.
"UEFA has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to discriminatory behavior and has given the power to referees to stop matches in case of any repeated racist behavior," UEFA said Friday.
Gullit said he disagrees with Platini's stance. He joined other black former players to launch a UEFA-backed "Respect Diversity" campaign which runs through the tournament. Former Tottenham forward Garth Crooks called on Platini to relax his stance on rules sanctioning players who leave the field.
The sole black player on the Czech Republic's team, Theodor Gebre Selassie, said he hoped racism wouldn't flare up in stadiums.
"We don't know yet what the situation will be like at the stadiums," he said, adding that he would not walk off the field. "I'm not ready to give up. I definitely won't leave. I'll stay until they throw stones at me."
AP Sports Writer Raf Casert in Krakow and Associated Press writer Karel Janicek in Wroclaw contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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