Czech Republic: Romani footballers play embassy employees
The friendly football match between the local TJ Junior Roma football club and representatives of eight embassies drew as many as 200 spectators to Děčín today. The match was held in response to the fact that several teams from the Děčín area refused to play the Romani team, comprised predominantly of Romani people in the district-level third class.
Swedish Ambassador to the Czech Republic Annika Jagander informed journalists of the reasons for holding the match today. The Swedish Embassy was the initiator of the friendly.
At the end of 90 minutes the match was a 5:5 draw. The victory was decided by a penalty, giving the diplomats a 6:5 win.
The final score however, was not the point today. "We learned that the others didn't want to play with this team. We felt bad for the team, so we called up the embassies of our allies so we could play a friendly match with them," Jagander said.
The ambassador said interest was so high that diplomats and employees of the embassies of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Great Britain, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden and the USA put more than one 11-member side together. She said that she hoped the match would contribute toward stabilizing the situation in the Děčín competition.
Representatives of the embassies wore t-shirts reading "Show racism the red card" ("Dáváme rasismu červenou kartu"). The Swedish ambassador said sport in particular is one way to bring people of various ethnicities together and develop their mutual tolerance and understanding of one another.
The position of Romani people in the Czech Republic is different than it is in Sweden due to different historical circumstances. "Romani people are uprooted here because in the past they were resettled, for example, into the localities along the border from which people were expelled [after WWII], while in Sweden they have lived for centuries in the same places," Jagander said.
"Their performance greatly surprised us, there were really high-quality footballers on their team," said Pavel Horváth, the head and trainer of TJ Junior Roma Děčín. The offer to play a match with representatives of embassies reportedly also greatly surprised the whole club.
"We were rather in shock. We could not believe we would have the opportunity to play against such figures. It's an honor for all Romani people in Děčín," Horváth said.
Whether the match will change the attitude of the other teams in the third-class division, however, he isn't able to guess. "We'll see, in any event we have nothing to lose," he said.
Some teams referred in their refusal to a three-year-old incident in which a referee was insulted and players brawled during a match between FC Děčín and Loko Děčín. Several players with the now-defunct FC Děčín, including one of the main instigators of that incident, Patrik Herák, also figure on the roster of TJ Junior Roma Děčín.
At the time Herák received an exemplary three-year ban from the football union. "This time I offered to the other teams that I would quit Roma so the match could go ahead, but they told me I was not the reason they don't want to play us," said Herák, who also plays for Heřmanov in the regional-level I.B.class.
Three rival teams have already refused to play TJ Junior Roma, the most recent of which, the Bynovec team, did so this afternoon. The case is being reviewed by the highest leadership of the Football Association of the Czech Republic, including by chair Miroslav Pelta.
In order to calm the situation, the District Football Union of Děčín is convening a meeting Thursday of representatives of all those participating in class three. Five of them have reportedly already made it clear in advance that they don't want to play against Roma, while the rest reportedly will.
"We want to clarify our attitudes to one another. For the teams that did not play their scheduled matches and lost by forfeit, we want to offer the option of playing substitute matches against TJ Junior Roma, should we reach agreement with them to do so," Libor Šimeček, chair of OFS Děčín, told the Czech News Agency.
Šimeček also said he does not believe the refusals have anything to do with racism. "Some competitors are afraid of aggression. TJ Junior Roma participates in youth competitions where no problems occur," he said.
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