As the opening of Euro 2012 Poland-Ukraine has drawn closer, international football officials have become increasingly worried about the potential for overt racial attacks and incidents both inside the stadiums during games and afterwards on the streets. The concerns were always there of course but when the award was made in 2007 not much of anyone thought it worth bringing up. Surely these were just overgrown local club/rivalry types of things, nothing to be alarmed about.
In truth, people were saying even back then that this could be a problem but they were shouted down and/or ignored. Money and politics, as always, ruled the day.
But the concerns have simmered over the months and years as the record of racist and anti-Semitic incidents - organized chants, signage and, finally, open street violence bordering on riots - grew more and more alarming.
Still, UEFA - and FIFA as well - were managing to keep most of it under the radar. Unless you were a follower of Eastern European football leagues, it was easy to not have heard much of anything about it.
Then, last week, UEFA's Head-in-the-Sand public approach took a serious hit when the BBC's Panorama program aired a chilling program entitled "Stadiums of Hate" which put the whole problem in exactly the kind of spotlight Michael Platini had been desperately trying to avoid.
(Unfortunately, the show is available online only for people in the UK. I did finally manage to see it through the wizardry of a friend but have no Earthly idea how to tell anyone else to go about it. It's well worth the trouble, however, and if anyone reading this knows how to get around the restriction I'm certain a lot of people would be grateful.)
(UPDATE: See link in comments courtesy of CHHS fan.)
The program is shocking, repulsive and frightening. Scene after scene of racial ugliness aimed at black players and fans, assaults on groups of Asian fans, it's way too much to try and summarize in a few sentences
The two countries officially responded about as one would expect, with Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleh Voloshyn calling the Panorama report as a "dreamed up and mythical problem".
Of course, as is typical, FIFA and UEFA are very angry at the British about it. Totalitarians are famous for blaming the messenger. As when the same program exposed FIFA's ISL bribetakers and overt corruption last Fall, football's Overlords feel the Beeb ought to just shut up.
Now, however, the issue they had hoped to keep under wraps just landed on the table with a huge and resounding thud.
Yesterday's opening media conference - typically an opportunity for self-aggrandizing flummery and fanfare - was dominated by questions about racism, anti-Semitism and just how UEFA intends to respond.
Enter one of the best game officials ever known to man, and a guy whose visage could be used to frighten small children into eating Brussels Sprouts:
In case you missed it, none other than Pierluigi Collina, the Man Without Hair, is in charge of UEFA's game officials, and his message is a simple one:
He has empowered the 12 referees assigned to the tournament - none of whom, it should be noted, is a black man - to blow the whistle and stop any match where racist signs, chants or violence is occurring.
Furthermore, if stadium officials are unable to effectively deal with the situation in a reasonable amount of time, game officials have been instructed to pull the teams from the field and end the match.
Collina has personally met with the players from all 16 teams and has explained the policy to them. Game officials will be held responsible to him, and the UEFA referee committee, if they fail to follow these instructions.
The best part is that it there's one guy in the world who is utterly unafraid of UEFA, FIFA, Blatter, Platini and the rest of that bunch, it's Collina.
Platini was also forced to respond to Manchester City's Italian striker Mario Balotelli, who has been subjected to, among other things, monkey chants from Porto fans, organized racial taunting from Juventus fans and has in the past been pelted with bananas.
He says he will walk off the pitch if anything similar happens during the Euros, and there are umors that he won't be alone.
Platini told the media that, should such a situation occur, the player will be booked. After which, presumably, he found a church and spent a few hours praying to God that he won't have to see that enforced.
Near the end of the conference, Platini was asked about Theo Wolcott's warning against non-white fans traveling to matches.
He pointed out that racism is not just a problem in the Ukraine and Polnad, but in France and England as well and is, a it's base, a societal problem, not a football one.
Which is of course absolutely true.
But for the next couple of weeks, like it or not, it's going to be HIS societal problem.