Poland and Ukraine reacted sharply on Tuesday to charges of racism and mob violence on their terraces and gave assurances that foreign footballers and fans would be safe during the Euro 2012 tournament they will co-host next month.
The neighbours moved to counteract a BBC Panorama investigative programme on football violence filmed in their countries. The programme, shown on Monday, contained footage of fans giving Nazi salutes, taunting black players with monkey noises, antisemitic chants and a group of Asian students being attacked at the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv, one of the four Ukrainian cities which will be hosting group matches.
The Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said: "Nobody who comes to Poland will be in any danger because of his race. This is not our custom, as is not pointing out similar incidents in other countries, although we know they take place. In Poland, they're a rarity," he said.
In Kiev, Ukraine's foreign ministry went further, saying the allegations were a "dreamed up and mythical problem". "You can criticise Ukrainian society for a lot of things ... but, in the practice of racism, European Union member countries are a long way ahead of Ukraine," said a ministry spokesman Oleh Voloshyn in comments reported by Interfax news agency.
For Ukraine, the racism allegations have added to a deluge of other bad publicity ahead of Euro 2012, a competition the former Soviet republic had hoped would show it as a modern state eligible to join the European Union.
The jailing of the opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, has triggered charges of backsliding on democracy from the EU, some of whose politicians are threatening to boycott the tournament. Reports of high-level corruption, excessive hotel prices, violence against participants of a Gay pride meeting and graphic images of a brawl in parliament over a language law have further damaged Ukraine's international image.
Ukrainian authorities fear the bad publicity could translate into low ticket sales and reduced tourist revenue to the detriment of their indebted economy.
Particularly stinging were the comments by the former England international Sol Campbell who, in the Panorama programme, warned England fans not to travel to Euro 2012 because of the threat of racism and violence. Campbell, who played 73 times for England and appeared at six major tournaments, said: "Stay at home, watch it on TV. Don't even risk it ... because you could end up coming back in a coffin."
His comments follow announcements from the families of two black England players who said they would not go to the championship.
Former Ukrainian internationals rallied to their country's defence. Andriy Shevchenko, who played for Chelsea, said: "We do not have any real problems with racism. Ukraine is a very peaceful country and people here are very friendly."
Oleh Luzhny, who used to play for Arsenal, was quoted by the online publication Korrespondent.net as saying: "I have never heard any talk about this problem [racism]. We have Nigerian football players here and I have never heard about outbreaks of racism."
The Uefa 2012 director, Markiyan Lubkivsky, faced with a barrage of questions on racism following the Panorama programme, pleaded with journalists to declare a "moratorium" on negative information about the championship. "So much mud has been heaped on this championship, and on the process of preparing for it," he said. "Ninety per cent of all the information is just not true."
He said Uefa saw no threat to citizens of various nationalities who came to Ukraine for Euro 2012 and, directly addressing Campbell's comments, he said: "These were simply insulting."