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Anti-racism monitors spotlight Ukraine

19 November 2013, 20:34

Geneva - Anti-racism monitors on Tuesday threw the spotlight on Ukraine fans after a march by nationalist hardliners ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifying playoff against France.

"Radical nationalist political statements do not belong in international football," said Rafal Pankowski of the Never Again Association, which monitors the East European game for the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network.

Ukraine fans' behaviour is in sharp focus amid their country's playoffs against France -- the two nations meet Tuesday for the return leg in Paris, after France lost 2-0 on Friday.

Shortly before Friday's match in Kiev, Pankowski said, more than 500 fans marched on the streets brandishing red and black flags, which repeatedly have sparked controversy.

The flag, whose colours stand for blood and soil, is commonly used by Ukrainian far-right and nationalist groups.

FARE was mandated by European football's governing body UEFA to draw up a list of xenophobic and offensive symbols in the run-up to Euro 2012, hosted by Ukraine and neighbouring Poland, and the flag was among them.

"On some occasions the flags were removed from display in recent domestic league games," noted Pankowski.

The flag was the banner of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA), which during World War II allied with Nazi Germany and massacred Jews and Poles -- making its display at a qualifier against Poland last month all the more controversial.

But Ukraine's nationalist Svoboda party and others argue that history has been slanted against the UIA, which also fought the Soviets in a vain effort to win independence, and that honouring it in stadiums is legitimate.

Svoboda, whose supporters range from neo-Nazis and hardcore nationalists to corruption-weary mainstream voters, is now the fourth-largest party in Ukraine's parliament.

Last month, it was rebuked by world football's governing body FIFA after a Svoboda delegation including lawmakers visited FIFA's Swiss base, posing inside and outside the building with a large flag.

Ukraine were already in trouble over racist taunts against Brazilian-born Ukraine player Edmar by his own fans during a September home qualifier against San Marino, plus Nazi salutes and the display of SS symbols.

FIFA ordered Ukraine to play their next qualifier behind closed doors and imposed a five-year ban on international matches in Lviv, the western city which is the hub of the nationalist movement, but Ukraine appealed and the sanction remains suspended pending a new hearing.



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