Gyulla Banga: FIFA punishes Croatian footballer for promoting Nazism
Josep Šimunič, a player with the Croatian football team, has been harshly punished by the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) for making an inappropriate display of joy after successfully winning a close match with Iceland. Šimunič was "awarded" the privilege of watching the next 10 matches from the warmth of his home on TV (the punishment includes a clause banning him from the stadium and being with the other players) and, as if that weren't enough to regret, he also received a "Christmas present" in the amount of a fine for 30 000 Swiss francs for his "exemplary" behavior.
It's clear to me that many of you have will no idea what I am writing about here. What has actually happened?
This footballer, who is a player for the national team, celebrated his victory with fans after the match against Iceland by picking up a microphone and shouting the Fascist greeting used by the Ustaša in Croatia, who were allies of Hitler's Germany. " 'Za dom spremni' [Ready for the homeland!] is the wartime chant used by the Nazi-oriented puppet regime that ruled Croatia at the time of the Second World War, during which tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs and members of other nationalities perished in concentration camps," wire services reported (video of the incident is at http://www.romea.cz/cz/zpravodajstvi/zahranicni/gyulla-banga-mezinarodni-fotbalova-federace-potrestala-chorvatskeho-hrace-za-propagaci-nacistickeho-rezimu).
This was a clear and documented promotion of the former Nazi regime. I'm not going to go over all of the crimes the Nazis perpetrated during their reign of terror in Europe, as most of us are well aware of this, in Croatia and elsewhere.
The match itself was being watched in the stadium by rather a large number of children, teenagers, and most probably also members of the Croatian government. The performance by this celebrating player, an exemplary representative of the national team, was therefore quite a model for his future followers to emulate.
The biggest punishment for the Croatian sinner is definitely the fact that he will not participate in the World Cup in Brazil next year. That is also why the punishment is considered extraordinarily strict (the players' lawyer has appealed it, by the way), and some circles say it is meant to be an exemplary punishment sending the message to others that FIFA will not tolerate such displays in the future.
It seems that the sources drawing that conclusion are not far from the truth. In the past other players and some spectators have been punished for similar sins, but never adequately, in my opinion.
For example, Italian footballer Paolo di Canio (Lazio Rome) used to customarily greet viewers with his right arm raised in the Fascist salute. His punishment was a fine and a one-match ban, while other Fascist greetings, signs and other displays of Nazi tendencies have been frequently ignored or addressed through fines only.
Prague's Sparta team has not evaded such financial punishment either. The behavior of their "ultras" was noticed by more than one representative of UEFA, which rewarded their live racist performances in the European League with hefty fines and the partial closure of their stadium.
When I reflect on how it is with some "fans" in the Czech Republic, just one thing comes to mind. It's different here: Fines are levied for failing to handle organizational services, but that's all.
Nazi and racist displays are often ignored here, and if it weren't for several reporters with the daily Sport, no one else would probably ever draw attention to them. I have warned several times that the so-called hardcore promoters of some football clubs are the same people who regularly spark unrest during anti-Romani marches.
These thugs promote the Nazi regime with impunity, spread racial hatred, and clash with both police officers and ordinary folks in the streets, to say nothing of their attempts to attack Romani people. No one ever punishes their displays here, not at the football stadium and not at any of the demonstrations.
Public officials ignore them, so they feel immune. It most probably does not occur to those officials that their inaction means they are just raising yet another generation to see such thugs as heroes.
I have criticized the owners of Czech football clubs more than once for being oblivious to this. They are grateful that such people attend the matches to give their clubs some sort of atmosphere, they make excuses and say they are working on it, that they are aware of it, but those are just alibis.
It's embarrassing when, at a match between Slavia and Sparta, the footballers come out with an anti-racist slogan on a banner in front of them and then, a few minutes later, you hear a loud shout of "Jude Slavie" (Slavia are Jews) in the arena. As if that weren't enough, the fans then stick an enormous banner with that same slogan directly in front of the television cameras.
The players also do as they like once a match is over. They run to the stands and spend most of their time in the spot where those particular "fans" were standing, never forgetting to thank them.
I cannot recall the Football Association of the Czech Republic (FAČR) ever uncompromisingly punishing a football club for such displays by their promoters, leaving aside the fines which have not fulfilled that purpose at all. Until the FAČR decides to harshly punish the clubs, nothing will change and respectable spectators will not make their way into the arenas.
Football is supposed to be for the people, so FAČR needs to finally show that this entertainment is intended for law-abiding folks, not for criminal elements. The punishment recently given the Croatian footballer is a harsh but correct and completely deserved one!
If that punishment was really meant as a warning to others, then so much the better. FIFA has finally correctly judged that it is time to effectively punish such displays, not just hand out fines for them.
I am certain that at the very least, other Croatian footballers will now think twice about how to celebrate a victorious match with spectators. I hope other football associations will join this effort and will not let their "ultras" demonstrate such primitive displays in the stands.
We must show everyone that animals like these have no place among respectable people. The case of the Croatian player was even more serious because he was representing the national team.
Šimunič was a role model for future young footballers. He really should not have done what he did - and he had to have been aware there would be consequences.
Just imagine the German national team, which includes players of Polish and Turkish heritage - if someone from that team celebrated a victory like Šimunič did, what would that be like? As for the Czech clubs, a punishment like what Šimunič got would do them no harm.
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