U.S. Soccer Schedules Friendly in Ukraine
Federation sends diverse team to nation with recent history of neo-Nazi issues in fan base
Last week U.S. Soccer quietly announced that the Men’s National Team will play Ukraine in a friendly March 5 as part of its preparations for the 2014 World Cup. It wasn’t posted to social media; it was just slipped onto the website.
The issue with this is that the nation of Ukraine has had a recent history of racism, neo-Nazism, and gay bashing within its national team fan base and in the nation at large.
Let’s start with LGBT issues, where things got very heated in the months ahead of the Euro 2012 tournament that was co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine. Gay pride in Kiev had to be cancelled in May 2012 when right-wing soccer hooligans attacked event organizers soon before it was set to begin. Police flat-out told them they would not put officers in harm’s way to protect the LGBT community.
Amnesty International advised LGBT persons and other minorities from travelling to Ukraine for Euro matches:
Not only will they have to deal with violent football hooligans who deliberately target gay people and people of ethnic minorities, they will also face an extremely corrupt police force who have a track record of beating and mistreating people because of their sexual orientation.
To repeat: “violent football hooligans…target gay people and people of ethnic minorities.”
A gay pride parade was held in 2013, although it was met with many counterprotesters and done in defiance of a court ruling declaring such events illegal. Participants were advised to dress modestly to ease fleeing if confronted by violent anti-gay activists or the police.
The culture isn’t improving either. Just this past fall FIFA sanctioned the Ukrainian Football Federation for fans’ racist and neo-Nazi behavior at a World Cup Qualifier where they defeated San Marino 9-0. In addition to a fine, the stadium in Lviv is banned from hosting any 2018 World Cup Qualifiers and the first home Qualifier they have of that cycle will be played in an empty stadium.
Their offenses? Neo-Nazi banners in the stands, Nazi salutes done by fans, and monkey noises targeted at Edmar, one of their own players born in Brazil.
To repeat: the Ukranian fans racially abused a player on their own team. Yet U.S. soccer thinks it’s appropriate to send our National Team, who has had players of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds (not to mention one now-out gay player) to play for these fans.
The city where U.S. Soccer is headed isn’t free of these issues, either. Stadium Metalist in Kharkiv was featured in the 2012 BBC documentary “Stadiums of Hate” with footage of fans giving Nazi salutes and Ultras charging a family-friendly seating section to beat a group of Indian students who were there to support the same team.
Finally, this is what things in Ukraine look like right now. Protesters are clashing with the aforementioned corrupt police over an emerging dictatorship. Protests turned deadly in the last few days andSecretary of State John Kerry threatened sanctions against the nation Friday.
Here’s the message for U.S. Soccer. You don’t make the final decision in where the World Cup is. You don’t make the final decision in where the Olympics are. But you do make the final decision in where you send our team for friendly matches. And in this case, you chose poorly.