FIFA start disciplinary proceedings against Josip Simunic
Croatian defender led their fans in alleged pro-Nazi chants
Followed 2-0 win over Iceland to clinch World Cup qualification
Croatia fined in the past for racist behavior of fans
Disciplinary proceedings were launched Friday against Croatia international Josip Simunic for alleged pro-Nazi chants after his country had sealed qualification for the 2014 World Cup, FIFA confirmed.
In the wake of Croatia’s 2-0 win over Iceland in a playoff match Tuesday to seal their passage to Brazil, Simunic grabbed a microphone and addressed the crowd at the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb.
He said loudly “za dom” – translated from Croatian as “for the homeland” – four times, gaining an immediate response from fans, who chanted “spremni”, meaning “ready”.
The chants have been associated with the feared pro-Nazi Ustase regime, which controlled Croatia during World War II.
According to reports in Croatia, the 35-year-old Simunic has been fined 25,000 kunas ($4,400) by prosecutors in Zagreb for inciting racial unrest.
World governing body FIFA has also felt compelled to act.
“We can confirm that disciplinary proceedings have been opened concerning the case,” it said in a statement.
Dinamo Zagreb captain Simunic has denied any political intent behind his impromptu celebration.
“The thought that anyone could associate me with any form of hatred or violence terrifies me,” he said in a statement on Dinamo’s official website.
“If anyone understood my cries differently, or negatively, I hereby want to deny they contained any political context.
“They were guided exclusively by my love for my people and homeland, not hatred and destruction.”
The veteran defender, who has spent much of his club career in the German Bundesliga, has been a mainstay for Croatia since making his debut in 2001.
Both FIFA and European football’s governing body UEFA have warned and fined Croatia on several occasions for the racist behavior of their fans.
Its football federation also reacted to Simunic’s actions, with chief Davor Suker describing them as “an inappropriate gesture” and hinting at further action.
In September, Simunic was the center of further controversy during Croatia’s qualifying match against bitter rivals Serbia.
With the scores tied at 1-1, a result which all but ended their chances of automatic qualification for Brazil, Simunic scythed down Serbia’s Miralem Sulejmani as he burst clear, earning an immediate red card.
In other football news Friday, UEFA fined both Marseille and Napoli for incidents involving flares during Champions League games between the sides.
French giants Marseille were hit with a euro 58,000 ($78.600) sanction after their fans threw flares and other objects on to the pitch during their home fixture on October 22 and in the away game at Napoli’s San Paolo stadium on November 6.
Serie A Napoli, who won both games, were hit with a euro 55,000 (74,500) fine for the same behavior by their supporters.