It used to be known as the English Disease, but these days the scourge of hooliganism—the toxic mix of extreme nationalism, racism and soccer-related violence—has shifted south and east. On Oct. 12 in Genoa, a Euro 2012 qualifier between Serbia and Italy was called off after Serb supporters rioted, lobbing flares onto the field and scaling security fencing, injuring 16 people. Depending on whom you ask, the hooligans were expressing dissatisfaction with the Serbian football federation, protesting Kosovar independence or trying to scuttle Serbia's EU candidacy. Italian police arrested dozens of Serbs, and 16 more were detained before their return home. UEFA is expected to hand down stiff punishment, possibly including banning Serbia from the European championship.
England all but eradicated hooliganism through the commitment of its police and football authorities. And soccer violence elsewhere in Europe is not as pervasive as it is in the former Yugoslavia, whose civil war, after all, was sparked by a 1990 brawl between hooligan supporters of Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade. But far-right extremism and overt racism remain troubling presences in soccer stadiums across the continent.
What does it mean for Euro 2012, which will be staged in Poland and Ukraine? No doubt both nations—eager to make a good impression on the world stage—will clamp down on extremist elements in advance. Antiracist measures and a massive police presence will likely be sufficient to curtail any incidents. But as last week's shocking scenes from Genoa illustrate, the problems at the grassroots level are much more insidious and harder to combat.