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News 21 Jun 16

Fines Won’t Cure Croatian Football, Expert Warns

After UEFA’s 100,000 euros fine, and amid fears of further acts of hooliganism at the European Football Cup, the problems in Croatian football must be tackled at several levels, an expert says.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Stands with Croatia's supporters on the game with Czech Republic. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Evren Atalay

UEFA’s fine on Croatia for misbehaving fans does not exclude the possibility of new penalties following the game with Spain on Tuesday - and Croatia needs to systematically resolve its football issues - a sports expert said.

UEFA on Monday fined the Croatian Football Federation, CFF, 100,000 euros for fans’ disorder at last Friday’s game against the Czech Republic in St Etienne, part of the 2016 UEFA European Championship in France.

Additionally, the CFF must not sell any more tickets to supporters labelled as “hooligans” at the the tournament.

With Croatia leading 2-1 in the 86th minute of Friday’s match, a group of around 30 people threw a dozen flares as well as firecrackers that almost hit one of the stadium staff and Croatian football player Ivan Perisic.

After that a fight broke out on the stands, most likely between fans wanting the game to be interrupted and the rest.

Although, French gendarmerie massed in front of the stand minutes after the flares were thrown, it did not stop the fight that went on for several few minutes on the stands.

Nevertheless, the referee continued the game after a five-minute interruption and Croatia received a goal from a penalty kick in the last minutes of the game.

Video showing the event for which CFF was fined.

The fans’ misbehaviour caught international and domestic media attention, once more putting the CFF and Croatian football under a spotlight.

Dario Brentin, researcher on sport and nationalism at the University of Graz in Austria, said that he “wouldn’t like to speculate whether there will be similar things in the stadium in Bordeaux on Tuesday”, but explained that more problems could be expected in future.

“Every game of the Croatian national team is a potential target for such organised actions to interrupt the games. This has been going on systematically for at last a year-and-a-half, or two,” he told BIRN.

Brentin noted the dispute between Croatian "ultras" who have gone to war with the CFF, and especially their leadership, president Davor Suker and first vice-president, Zdravko Mamic.

Mamic, also not liked by the Dinamo Zagreb club fans where he was executive president until a few months ago, is seen as the “eminence grise” by the fans, many of whom believe he uses the CFF, the Croatian national team and football for its own private financial gain.

Mamic, along with other Dinamo’s officials was arrested last July and November on suspicion of corruption in the club. Fans accuse the CFF for not obeying the law on sports and of widespread corruption.

Ultra supporters groups therefore either boycott matches of the team or seek ways to get the CFF disciplined and the team punished by points deductions, or even disqualified, which would, according to their plans, force the CFF leadership to step down.

“All these must be understood within a triangle of special social behaviour of football fans and ultras, the CFF’s moves and politicians’ response. This incident will only strengthen the position of the each side,” Brentin said.

According to him, there are different groups among fans: some are perhaps only on the fringes of hooliganism, but advocate a more democratic model of running football.

The same expert explained that politicians had failed to resolve the issue of football and the future was not looking bright.

He also called the reaction of Croatian politicians totally inappropriate, mentioning the case of President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic’s post on Facebook.

“If you see the President’s post, she labels these offenders members of long-gone nationalistic groups, using the language of one [Velimir] Bujanec,” Brentin said.

Grabar Kitarovic called the offending fans members of a Yugoslav 1920’s nationalistic organisation known as ORJUNA, almost repeating the post on the subject by the controversial TV host, Bujanec, made minutes before her.

Bujanec, known for his pro-Nazi views as a student, and for his current far-right views, was a VIP guest at Grabar Kitarovic’s presidential inauguration in February 2015.

Brentin concluded that to prevent incidents like this in future, Croatian football needs big changes, “not only in law, but in values, principles, style”.

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