Fears over Euro 2012 being overshadowed by racist incidents returned yesterday after Netherlands captain Mark van Bommel said the team heard racist chanting during a public training session in the southern Polish city of Krakow.
Co-hosts Poland and Ukraine have already rejected claims that racist violence is rife at their soccer grounds, which has led to governments of some participating nations to warn traveling fans to be on their guard.
However, as the tournament prepared to kick off yesterday, Van Bommel said they were forced to train away from fans who had turned up for a public training session in Krakow on Wednesday.
“We all heard the monkey chants,” Van Bommel was quoted as saying by De Telegraaf newspaper. “We can’t accept that. We reacted well and the situation was sorted.”
The AC Milan midfielder added: “During the tournament, if any one of us is confronted with such a thing, we’ll immediately go to the referee to ask him to intervene.”
European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, had said that a small group of protesters targeted the Dutch team’s training ground in Krakow on Wednesday, but at first denied the demonstrations were racist.
However, “UEFA has now been made aware that there were some isolated incidents of racist chanting,” the soccer body said in a statement later yesterday.
De Telegraaf previously reported that a handful of the 25,000 fans who turned up to watch the Oranje train had made monkey noises at the side’s black players during the warm-up.
Coach Bert Van Marwijk, who is Van Bommel’s father-in-law, had said after the training session: “I congratulate the spectators who created an extraordinary atmosphere in the stadium.”
The Netherlands play their opening match in Group B against Denmark in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv today.
A recent British TV documentary, entitled Stadiums of Hate, fueled concerns about fans’ behavior at club matches. The program was shown in Poland earlier this week and the issue dominated questions at the first news conference of UEFA President Michel Platini at the tournament.
Platini promised that referees would stop matches if players suffer racist abuse. However, 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 yesterday.