News 16 Jun 15

Croatian MEPs Urge UEFA Leniency Over Swastika

Croatian members of the European Parliament condemned the imprinting of a swastika on the pitch at an international football match last week but asked UEFA not to punish the country’s team.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
The swastika on the pitch in Split. Photo: Twitter

Croatian members of the European Parliament on Monday called on European football’s governing body UEFA not to exclude the country from the Euro 2016 tournament over the swastika incident at the qualifying match with Italy in Split last week.

The MEPs said they hoped that “the Croatian state authorities are left to resolve the incident and punish the perpetrators”, while admitting that it had damaged the country’s reputation abroad.

“We strongly condemn the harsh provocation of showing Nazi symbols on the turf of the Poljud stadium in Split... This act harmed the reputation of the Republic of Croatia in the world and caused great embarrassment to the national football team and the Croatian sport in general,” they said.

UEFA opened its investigation into the case on Monday. Penalties could include points deductions, the playing of matches behind closed doors, or even throwing the Croatian national team out of the tournament. The decision will be known by mid-July.

The 14-metre swastika, which had been chemically bleached into the grass, was noticed by Italian reporters at half-time during the match on Friday, but stadium staff initially tried to conceal it.

The match was played in front of empty stands due to a prior sanction for racist chants at a match with Norway in March.

Croatian interior minister Ranko Ostojic blamed the country’s football association for the incident.

“There are two groups of perpetrators - one made the swastika and created the incident. Another culprit has been identified, and it are those who allowed something like this to happen,” he told the Otvoreno talk show on public broadcaster HRT on Monday.

He said that police have found out that the association knew about the swastika before the game and that an investigation had been opened into who was responsible.

He added that the association had tried to blame the local football club from Split, Hajduk, which plays its games at Poljud stadium.

The football association has refused to take responsibility for the incident, claiming that they found out about the swastika in the middle of the game when it was already too late.

Croatian journalist Edo Pezzi claimed that the people working at the stadium informed the football association 23 minutes before the game about the swastika, but that it ignored them.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic said on Saturday that she “strongly condemns the appearance of the swastika on the football pitch” and called for the authorities to take immediate action.

Croatian football has a history of Nazi-related incidents. At the match with Norway in March, supporters at the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb chanted “Za dom spremni” (“Ready for the homeland”) – a slogan used by the WWII Nazi-aligned Independent State of Croatia.

The same slogan was shouted by Croatian player Josip Simunic after a game with Iceland in November 2013, which led to his suspension for the World Cup in Brazil.

Croatian fans displayed another swastika flag in the stands in at a European qualifier against Georgia in Split in June 2011. They also created a swastika with their bodies in the stands of the stadium in Livorno in Italy in August 2006.

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