Racism concerns

Dutch players hear racist chants

ESPN.com news services

Concerns over potential racism from fans at Euro 2012 came to the forefront Thursday when players for the Netherlands said they heard monkey chants at an open training session Wednesday, one day before the tournament opens.

Hundreds of the 25,000 people in attendance in Krakow, Poland, targeted Nigel de Jong and Gregory van der Wiel, who are black, with monkey noises and loud jeers.

Dutch captain Mark van Bommel said the chants came from one end of the stadium in Krakow as the Dutch squad trained Wednesday 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."

The Dutch squad had made solemn and emotional visits to the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps close to Krakow.

"It is a real disgrace especially after getting back from Auschwitz that you are confronted with this," van Bommel told The Guardian Thursday. "We will take it up with UEFA and if it happens at a match we will talk to the referee and ask him to take us off the field."

"At least now we know what we can encounter," Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk told The Guardian. "Very atmospheric."

UEFA, a day after reportedly denying the chants were racially motivated, acknowledged them Friday.

"UEFA has now been made aware that there were some isolated incidents of racist chanting," UEFA said in a statement.

Van Bommel told The Guardian Thursday, after UEFA's initial denial:

"You need to open your ears. If you did hear it, and don't want to hear it, that is even worse."

However, on Friday, UEFA spokesman Alexandre Fourtoy insisted there still was no proof or evidence that the racist abuse actually occurred.

"We are more worried that this incident could be given disproportionate importance," Fourtoy said. "I think it's unfair for Poland and Ukraine to be considered racist countries -- South Africa in the 1980s was a racist country.

"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."

Netherlands teammate Ibrahim Afellay, who is black, told De Telegraaf that the jeers had "saddened him." However, the Dutch federation said Thursday it did not file a complaint to UEFA.

"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.

On Wednesday, UEFA president Michel Platini had promised that referees will stop matches if players suffer abuse from fans, as questions on racism in Poland and Ukraine, the co-host nations, dominated a news conference to launch the tournament. But he also warned players they would be shown a yellow card if they acted alone by walking off the field.

Racism has emerged as a key issue for the Euro 2012 tournament, and concern was fueled by a British television program last week showing discrimination and violent incidents at recent club matches in both Poland and Ukraine.

Four years ago, UEFA fined the Croatia national association $19,600 for its fans' neo-Nazi flags and chants during a Euro 2008 quarterfinals loss against Turkey in Vienna, Austria.

The sole black player on the Czech Republic's team, Theodor Gebre Selassie, said he hoped racism wouldn't flare up in the 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."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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