John Kampfner: Euro 2012: How can we lecture other people about racism?

What sticks in the craw is the patronising tone which permeates far beyond sport

With Europe bigoted and broke, there has never been a better time to be a little Englander. Everywhere you look, according to most of our media, we have left those hapless continentals far behind. Take football. As England limber up for their biennial heroic defeat, television and newspapers have focused on racism and hooliganism in the Ukraine and Poland. Russian fans were apparently the first culprits in the tournament itself, in their game on Friday night.

It is entirely right to focus on this problem, and for the authorities to come down extremely hard on perpetrators and anyone turning a blind eye. However, what sticks in the craw is the culturally condescending sub-text. It permeates far beyond the sporting arena. We hardy Brits can teach those Johnnies a lesson. The fact that very few of our compatriots can speak any of their tongues is paraded almost as a virtue.

During the radio coverage of Germany's match on Saturday night, the commentators expressed astonishment that the venue, Lviv, actually had decent hotels and restaurants and pleasant people. They had seemingly forgotten to do their homework, to find out anything about the city's rich culture and history. Perhaps they will be similarly astonished to find that Kiev was the cradle of Russian society.

The tone might be more understandable if confined to areas of the former Soviet Union with serious human rights problems. Ukrainian politics, as with many countries in the region, has long been mired in political and economic corruption, and abuses – not least the current imprisonment of opposition leader Yulia Timoshenko.

Yet it goes without saying that pretty much across Europe, so our newspapers suggest, their criminal justice systems do not match ours. Any Brit in trouble in, say Spain or Italy, is almost certainly not going to get a fair trial.

As for European economies, our patronising manner long predates the recent woes. When I lived in Germany in the mid-1980s, Brits couldn't help but pontificate about Thatcher-era mantras of de-regulation and let-the-market-rip. Yes, we even knew how to run businesses better than the Germans. And who is now having the last laugh?

Back to Euro 2012 and Poland and Ukraine: Britain has made commendable strides since English clubs were banned from Europe for violent behaviour. But we have no moral authority to lecture others. In case anyone has forgotten, the England management is mired in a controversy involving player selection with allegations of racist overtones. Pots calling kettles black anyone?

John Kampfner is author of 'Blair's Wars' and 'Freedom For Sale' twitter@johnkampfner / jkampfner.net

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