Ethiopian-Czech player Theo Gebre Selassie was subjected to racial abuse by Russia fans during the Czech Republic’s opening match of Euro 2012, a watchdog group said on Saturday.

“Our monitor at the game heard monkey chants directed by some Russian fans at the black Czech player Theodor Gebre Selassie,” said Rafal Pankowski of Polish-based organisation Never Again, part of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network.

The chants against Selassie – who made history in 2011 by becoming the first black member in the Czech team – came during Friday’s match in the southwestern city of Wroclaw, where his side were thrashed 4-1 by Group A favorites Russia.

Racism was seen as a concern even before the start of Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine – the first-ever edition behind the former Iron Curtain.

It has become a frontline issue since Dutch players were abused during a public training session in the southern Polish city of Krakow.

Concerns have also been raised about “Russian Empire” flags waved by some fans at the stadium, seen as deeply provocative in parts of Eastern Europe that used to be under Moscow’s thumb.

“The display of the Russian imperial flag in itself does not have to be seen as an incident,” said Pankowski.

“Nevertheless, we know the flag is often used by some right-wing extremists and therefore its display can often be accompanied by discriminatory slogans and chants.”

Never Again, which in 1996 launched Poland’s first football-focused campaign, has been mandated by FARE to deploy observers at games during the tournament.

FARE, which has backing from UEFA, carried out similar monitoring at Euro 2004, the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008, and also runs anti-racism activities in fanzones.

Never Again has also provided anti-racism training to match stewards, four of whom were beaten up by a group of Russian fans after the game, Pankowski noted.

“We hope this multicultural and festive tournament will not be tarnished by racist and nationalist incidents,” he added.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us