An LGBT+ sports team were ambushed by a group of masked men in a targeted attack in Gdansk, Poland, the city preparing to host the UEFA Europa League Final.
In an interview with The Athletic, the club’s leader Andrzej Tokarski recalled the horrifying night in March when his LGBT-friendly fitness session was stormed by more than two dozen men in balaclavas.
“We were beaten and scared to death,” he said. “Two of us were in hospital, the rest managed to escape.
“I felt a responsibility for the group, I had invited them to a safe space that became unsafe. My friend brought her eight-year-old daughter and she witnessed that. It was just a group of friends doing sport together.
“I lost my tooth. I was beaten. I had to go to the hospital and have everything scanned. I was in shock.”
The weekly workouts welcome people of all generations, with the aim of providing an inclusive space for the LGBT+ community. Tokarski is clear that it was the group’s LGBT-friendly stance that made them a target.
“This was not a random violent attack. This was organised,” he said.
“People were masked up and wearing sunglasses at night, without any signatures or logos on their T-shirts. It was motivated by hate because they were shouting [homophobic] stuff at us.”
Tokarski suffered a broken tooth and a spinal injury, and was one of two members of the fitness group whose injuries required hospital treatment.
The shocking attack has cast doubt on UEFA’s decision to host the upcoming Europa League Final in Gdansk, let alone Poland, the EU’s most homophobic member state for the second year running.
It comes after the previous Europa League Final in 2019 was held in Azerbaijan, ranked as the most homophobic European country outside the EU, while Turkey reached the final two of the bidding process for the 2024 championship.
As Poland’s homophobic hate escalates and more than a third of the country declares itself “LGBT-free”, the world of football has remained silent – despite the many pledges to eradicate homophobia in sport.
UEFA’s own president Aleksander Ceferin says on the organisation’s website: “It is vitally important that UEFA makes football accessible for everyone and, through the power of sport, becomes a global leader to fight for social equality.”
Yet when contacted by The Athletic, UEFA were unable to provide any examples of challenging homophobia in Poland. They also declined to comment on the attack in Gdansk.
Meanwhile, the city attracted further violence on Tuesday night as a group of Manchester United fans visiting for the Europa League final were attacked by a group of locals in a bar.
Gdansk mayor Aleksandra Dulkiewicz was quick to condemn the “hooligans”, declaring: “In Gdansk, an open and solidarity-based city, there is no place for any violence. Dear fans and guests, you are always welcome and we welcome you to our city!”
Unfortunately it seems that warm welcome isn’t extended to Gdansk’s own LGBT+ citizens, who must continue to face the hostile reality of life in Poland.
Tokarski has since recovered from his injuries and his fitness group has resumed, but he and his members are now forced to take a more cautious approach.
They’ve stopped placing adverts locally, locked their Facebook group, introduced background checks for new members – and they no longer leave the rainbow flag out during the training session.
“Only at the very start,” Tokarski said. “So new members joining up can see us in the park. We do not want to provoke anyone.”