Alpine Bid Down Slipping Slope
The race for EURO2008 could lose one of the runners soon. Austria and Switzerland's bid suffered a blow as allegations arose that Sturm Graz fans aimed Nazi salutes at Maccabi Haifa players this week. UEFA are sending in a senior inspector, Israeli Jacob Erel, to Vienna next week to probe the allegations. Erel is one of UEFA's top policy-makers and is the the director responsible for the running of all competitions, including the Champions League and the European Championships. He was shocked to see pictures on Israeli TV showing apparently Graz fans chanting 'Heil Hitler' and 'Auschwitz'.
Erel is a member of UEFA's inspection team which will be touring the countries bidding to win the right to host EURO2008. They begin their month-long tour in Switzerland and Austria on Monday with the final visit being to Ireland and Scotland next month. This events at the Sturm Graz - Maccabi Haifa could not have come at a worse time for the Alpine bid which had been one of the favourite until recently. The scenes in Sofia follow last month's Rapid Vienna-Arsenal 'friendly' being abandoned amid neo-Nazi violence. The reason for the Champions League qualifier game being moved to Bulgaria was because of the tensions in the Middle East. Graz officials were quick to defend their fans and pointed to local fans at the game as the culprits. Austrian police attaché Markus Koppel, in Sofia as an official co-ordinator, insisted: "It was not our fans - never. The Graz fans were shocked as they clearly detest Nazi glorification".
However, reporters from Israeli TV who are following Haifa as they strive to reach the group stages of the Champions league are adamant that it was Sturm Graz fans who were responsible for the chants. They reminded everyone that in each of the last two seasons serious diplomatic incidents have flared-up following matches between Austrian and Israeli national and club sides. Last night, Erel said: "I was not aware this had taken place and I will need to see the reports from the referee and the UEFA observer concerning the match. Clearly, this is something we do not want to see. But, as I am a member of the inspection team, I cannot comment until I have delved into this matter in more detail". It is unfortunate that in the Alpine bid document and promotions the football associations claim that that the Alpine Republic was the 'safe' option for 2008, 'free from football violence'. They could rue the day that Sturm Graz were drawn against Maccabi Haifa.
Ger Harley (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Shane Knox (email@example.com)
Al McIntosh (Al@scottishfitba.net)
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