SUNDERLAND football legend Gary Bennett believes Euro 2012 is a “great spectacle” for youngsters.
But the ex-defender has warned that could change if the tournament becomes blighted by racism.
Fears have been mounting that players from black and ethnic minority backgrounds would be targeted for abuse, after racist chanting was directed at Holland players during a training session last week.
Tournament bosses at Uefa have confirmed they will investigate racist chanting during matches between Spain and Italy, and Russia v Czech Republic.
Violence also erupted as fans battled before Tuesday night’s game between fierce rivals Poland and Russia.
Hundreds of riot police fired rubber bullets to try to restore order after fighting left supporters injured.
Former Black Cats captain Bennett said: “So far the tournament has been mainly about the football, and that is the way it should be.
“Before it started players were saying they would walk off the pitch if they were racially abused. You don’t want to see anyone being abused, and you don’t want the Euros being marred by racism.
“From a footballing point of view, the quality has been fantastic and it’s a great spectacle for people, especially the youngsters who can learn from top players.
“It will be interesting to see what happens come the latter stages of the tournament when things get quite tense, but hopefully fans from all countries will respect the players.”
Bennett was speaking during a workshop with Show Racism the Red Card, a campaign which uses football to educate against racism.
He was joined by ex-Newcastle United defender John Anderson at the event at Harton Technology College, in South Shields. The pair spent time speaking to the college’s year seven pupils to raise awareness of issues surrounding racism.
They also took part in a football-related training session to promote health and wellbeing.
Show Racism the Red Card works closely with South Tyneside Council, schools and colleges, and meets about 1,500 young people in the borough each year.