UEFA gets tough after Balkan violence
Sickening scenes in the Bosnian city of Mostar come as a reminder that soccer violence in the western Balkans is largely an echo of the ethnic strife that tore the former Yugoslavia to pieces in the 1990s.
Fans of home club Zrinjski and the visiting supporters of Serbias Partizan Belgrade clashed with each other as well as with riot police before, during and after a UEFA Cup first qualifying round match that came close to being abandoned early in the first half.
As a result, Partizan were thrown out of the UEFA Cup and fined 50,000 Swiss francs as European soccer’s governing body delivered on its vow to show no tolerance for hooliganism.
It is no surprise that soccer violence keeps showing its ugly head on a regular basis in this part of Europe, where the authorities have so far taken half-hearted action to vanquish it. Fights among fans, some of them with fatalities, seem to break out whenever passionate local derbies take place in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and also when clubs or national teams from these countries play each other.
Vulgar ethnic and religious insults and banners glorifying war crimes suspects are part of the violence which leaves fans, police and security stewards in danger of suffering serious injuries and worse.
The culprits usually get away with suspended sentences and the teams with symbolic fines. It means the violence goes effectively unpunished and it has driven away most decent soccer fans from the stadiums.
Serbia kicked off their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign behind closed doors after trouble during their final World Cup 2006 home qualifier against Bosnia but that did not seem to ring the alarm bells in Belgrade sufficiently.
Partizans banishment certainly will. The clubs top officials, while hoping they would be let off the hook one more time, readily acknowledged that they had it coming.
Zoran Milosavljevic, Belgrade