YEARS ago, someone who occasionally advised me on my future spotted a promising opening. He made inquiries on my behalf but came back deflated. The boss of the organisation was keen, but his most senior staff member, whom I knew, had become "hysterical" at the suggestion of my joining. Some years later, when I pressed again, my adviser told me the senior staff member had objected to working with a Jew.

I have suffered blessedly few such incidents, but I have an inkling of what Sol Campbell, the black former England footballer, meant after watching BBC footage of racist abuse at grounds in Poland and Ukraine: "Sick, empty, hurt."

The BBC film showed anti-Semitic chanting, abuse of black players and a physical assault on Indian spectators at a Ukrainian stadium. The Polish and Ukrainian governments hosting the Euro 2012 football tournament said there would be no problems. But there have been, and officials have provided a demonstration of how not to deal with them.

Individual officials' ability to deal with racism on the streets is limited. But people can take responsibility for their own organisations. It starts with managers making it clear that it matters. When Fifa president Sepp Blatter said racist abuse on the field could be sorted out with a handshake, he could be dismissed as someone no longer fit to be in charge. We might have expected more from the Dutch Football Association (FA). When its team, practising in Krakow, moved to the far side of the ground after hearing monkey chants, the Dutch FA declined to make an official complaint. It said: "A few players have heard sounds, which could be described as possible monkey chants. However, staff on the pitch were not aware of this."

The response to doubters from Mark van Bommel, the Dutch captain, should be taped above every managerial desk: "Open your ears. If you did hear it, and don't want to hear it, that is even worse." T he message from the officials is: we don't want to make a fuss, so you're on your own.

The English FA has fumbled its biggest test this year. Former captain John Terry faces charges of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand last October. Terry denies the charge and nothing has been proved. But the FA stripped him of the captaincy, then allowed him to play as an ordinary team member. Manager Roy Hodgson refused to select Rio Ferdinand, the alleged victim's brother, ostensibly on footballing grounds. Many believe management fears the two players cannot share a changing room and prefer Terry. It is tawdry and suggests, again, that racism doesn't really matter.

What is required is firmness at the top. The Dutch FA should have said: "Not everyone heard the abuse, but our players did, and they are the ones who matter ." It is not just that racists thrive when condemnation is half-hearted. It is that there is no bigger leadership failure than giving those who work for you the feeling that you are not on their side.

© 2012 The Financial Times Limited