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Euro 2012 fans downplay racism incidents

posted 9 Jun 2012, 07:35 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 9 Jun 2012, 07:35 ]

Football fans from around the world unite despite racism claims during the Euro 2012 tournament.

LVIV, UKRAINE (JUNE 9, 2012) (REUTERS) - Football fans waving their national flags took over the centre of Ukraine's western capital Lviv on Saturday (June 9) ahead of the city's Euro 2012 match.

German and Portuguese fans, in colourful hats and wigs, mingled with their hosts who have set up a fan zone behind the city's Opera House.

On Saturday evening, fans will be able to watch German and Portugal play their opening match in the giant screens set up inside the zone in Ukraine's culture capital.

The tournament opened on Friday (June 8) amid racism concerns during the biggest sporting event in Eastern Europe since the collapse of communism.

Hosts Poland and Ukraine hope the month-long tournament will show the world how far they have come since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed two years later.

Ukraine wants the finals to help it integrate with the West.

But both countries are embroiled in a row over racism.

A spokeswoman for the Dutch team said players had heard racist chants from the crowd this week during a training session in a stadium used by Polish club side Wisla Krakow.

Dutch football authorities did not lodge a formal complaint but the Union of European Football Associations, soccer's European governing body, released a statement saying it had a "zero-tolerance policy" on racism and referees had been told to stop matches if there was any racist behaviour.

Ukraine has also tried to dismiss such concerns, which were fuelled by a BBC documentary that showed racist violence in a Ukrainian soccer stadium.

But for the fans in Lviv, their love for the game transcends any racial and cultural lines.

A group of Lebanese football fans who have travelled from Beirut said they were not worried.

"No I'm not worried. So far nothing happened. I don't see any problem with this. You see everyone is having a good time. Everyone is enjoying their time and this is all about football, about respect, and you know it unites all the people regardless of their ethnicity, their religion. It all revolves around the ball and the game and respect and fair play and until now I haven't seen anything wrong," said 30-year-old Wissam Haddad who's travelling with his four friends to different host cities.

The controversy has done little to dampen enthusiasm among Polish and Ukrainian fans and there was a festive atmosphere in both countries. Matches in Ukraine start on Saturday, when Denmark play Netherlands and Germany face Portugal in Group B.