Kiev, Ukraine: Ukrainian officials are denying that football fans of African and Asian origin will be the targets of violence by racist hooligans at the European Championship, and a top tournament organizer says stewards - and not police - will be the most visible security at stadiums.
A BBC documentary this week showed footage of Ukrainian hooligans attacking Asian fans supporting the same team at a domestic league match, as well as examples of blatant anti-Semitism.
Former England soccer player Sol Campbell has warned English fans to stay home or risk returning "in a coffin." And the families of two black England players - Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - say they may not travel to the June 8 to July 1 tournament that will be co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine.
Markiyan Lubkivskyi, UEFA's tournament director in Kiev, said such claims were made by people who don't know anything about the country.
"For me, it is very important to bring to Ukraine a lot of people and a lot of supporters to discover Ukraine because Ukraine is still colored with a lot of horror stories, with a lot of rumors with a lot things which have nothing to do with reality," he told The Associated Press.
"So it was a little bit funny to hear comments from Campbell, who never visited Ukraine."
He said UEFA is "very strict" regarding racism and that they'd be showing "zero tolerance."
He says that not one match at the tournament has been highlighted as high-risk and that about 30 police officers will be in a room on standby to handle fan violence if necessary, but they will be inside the stadium and away from the stands.
"We will have a different approach in terms of safety and security at Ukrainian stadia," he said. "We will not have police in Ukrainian stadiums. We will have stewards. Stewards who will provide services, high-level services."
"We don't expect any battles, any war - so that's why we are preparing for the big football festival."
Oleh Voloshyn, a spokesman for Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, expressed disbelief at comments by Italy and Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli, who said this week he'd kill anyone who throws a banana at him - and that he'd then end up in jail.
"I will persuade him that most probably the only place he can find bananas - even if he wants them - is in Ukrainian restaurants," said Voloshyn. "Most probably he should search for traditional Ukrainian dumplings, for Ukrainian lard and Ukrainian borscht."
"I am sure that nothing is going to happen - we all should calm down and return back to reality."