The Euro 2012 finals are just a week away but football is not the main topic of conversation ahead of the extravaganza in Poland and the Ukraine.
All recent talk appears to centre on racism and the possibility that fans may be subject to racists attacks during the tournament.
So far in response we’ve had Sol Campbell urging fans to “stay at home, watch it on TV. Don’t even risk it… because you could end up coming back in a coffin”.
Manchester City and Italy international Mario Balotelli insisted he would have no hesitation in walking off the pitch if he was subjected to abuse from the stands. He even admitted he could not control his actions if he was the victim of racist abuse in the street.
“If [racism] does happen I would leave the pitch and go home,” said Balotelli. “Racism is unacceptable to me, I cannot bear it. We are in 2012, it can’t happen.
“If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to prison because I will kill him.”
A Panorama programme showed fans making Nazi salutes on the terraces, black players being taunted with monkey chants and a vicious assault on a group of Asian students during a game.
But Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych has downplayed fears of racist attacks during the tounament.
In an interview with the BBC, he said hooligans were known to the authorities and security services “will be watching all the matches closely”.
Yanukovych said his country had “created all the infrastructure for football fans to feel good and for Ukraine to show all its capabilities”.
“We are waiting for our guests with great pleasure,” he added.
His sentiments were echoed by Ukrainian legend Andriy Shevchenko, 35, who told the BBC recently: “We don’t have a real problem here about racism. The country’s very quiet and people are very friendly.”
Theo Walcott’s family have revealed they will not be travelling to the tournament because of their concerns about racism, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s family are understood to be undecided on whether to attend.
But former Chelsea player Shevchenko added: “I know the country did everything to make this competition very good.
“I know how much work the country tried to do: airports, in streets, stadium in the last five years.
“We never have heard problems about racism.”
England are expected to have their lowest travelling support at a tournament in years after thousands of Euro 2012 tickets were returned to Uefa.
The Football Association was given around 7,500 tickets for the games against France and Ukraine, and 9,000 for the Sweden fixture. Only 3,000 tickets were sold through England’s official membership group for each of the group games.
The unsold tickets have been sent back to Uefa and will go on general sale.
Tags: Andriy Shevchenko, Euro 2012, Poland, Racism, RESPECT, Sol Campbell, Ukraine