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“The fans sometimes fight, but this is not racism,” Bubka said by phone. Of the group assault on the Indians, he added: “If something happened in that way, this is not because of racism. It’s a mistake.”

“We have a lot of foreign companies, the dark-skinned people, working here,” he said. “Also, we have plenty of universities … where students from Africa, from Asia, from Latin America (are) studying and living.”

Ukraine and Poland aren’t the only countries where the tribal nature of football and the relative anonymity of its large, noisy crowds attract thugs. In England, for example, authorities are ordering some 3,000 identified football troublemakers to surrender their passports to police to ensure they can’t travel to Euro 2012.

But, again, images of Indians being beaten in a stadium one month before it hosts the Netherlands vs. Denmark on June 9 are a stain on Ukraine.

My advice: UEFA President Michel Platini and authorities there should invite those same fans to the final in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium on July 1. Pamper them, apologize, be photographed together enjoying the match. Zero tolerance for football hooligans, in action.

And, finally, there’s Italy. Prosecutors there are piecing together compelling evidence of how football _ not all of football, but a sizable chunk of it _ is being poisoned from within by match-fixers, corrupt players and officials.

Italian Premier Mario Monti, damningly describing himself as “someone who was passionate when football was still football,” even suggested this week that the country which has won four World Cups and produced 12 European Cup-winning teams should put the sport on hold for “two to three years” while authorities clean house.

One question hanging over Euro 2012 will be whether the 50 or so arrests in Italy since last year indicate that its football is more gravely infected by match-fixing than elsewhere in Europe, or whether its prosecutors are simply doing better at exposing the crooks.

Some party.


John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at) or follow him at