In a message ahead of the Euro 2012 championship, the pope has said soccer engenders respect for others. But new fears of racism at the tournament have been fuelled by reports of taunts being levelled at Dutch players.
Netherlands captain Mark van Bommel said Friday that his players heard monkey chants during a public training session in the southern Polish city of Krakow, further stoking fears that racism could rear its ugly head at the Euro 2012 football championship.
Van Bommel was quoted by De Telegraaf newspaper as saying: "We all heard monkey chants. We can't accept that. We reacted well and the situation was sorted."
"During the tournament, if any one of us is confronted with such a thing, we'll immediately go to the referee to ask him to intervene," he added.
Van Bommel said they were forced to train away from fans viewing the training session.
However, an official from European football's governing body, UEFA, said it had spoken with the Dutch squad, who had said they had not seen or heard anything of a racist nature.
He said some Polish supporters had demonstrated at the training ground, but that this was in anger at UEFA's decision not to host any of the games in Krakow.
The build-up to the Euro 2012 tournament, which is being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, has been dominated by concerns about racism among home fans.
Both countries have denied that racism is rife at their soccer grounds. The fears have, however, led the governments of some countries to issue a travel warning to fans about the risk of racist violence.
UEFA President Michel Platini has promised that referees will stop matches if players suffer racist abuse.
But he also warned players they would be shown a yellow card if they acted alone by walking off the pitch.
School of soccer
The latest incident comes as Pope Benedict XVI declared football to be like a school that taught people about respect for one another.
In a message addressed to the president of the Polish Episcopal Conference and broadcast by Radio Vatican, the pope said: "It is in a word something that bypasses individual logic and egotism, which often characterise human relations, and replaces it by fraternity and love."
The Netherlands play their opening match in Group B against Denmark in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Saturday.
The championship itself kicks off later on Friday with a match between co-host Poland and Greece in the Polish capital, Warsaw.
tj/sej (AP, AFP, Reuters)