The harshest punishment in recent memory following unacceptable fan behavior was handed down by UEFA on Thursday, when Europe’s football governing body docked Croatia one point in their 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign.
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On top of the point deduction, Croatia will also be forced to play their next two home qualifiers (Oct. 10 vs. Bulgaria is the only qualifier currently on Croatia’s schedule) behind close doors, while no further qualifiers will be allowed to be played in the city of Split. The Croatian football federation has also been fined $110,000.
The Croatian federation described the punishment as “hard, the hardest in the history” of the association.
But, for what? What could Croatian fans have possibly done that was so bad — in a world where unbridled racism routinely draws piddly fines from UEFA in the low tens of thousands of dollars — to be given this kind of real, tangible punishment?
The answer, of course, is that they painted a swastika on the field (above photo) prior to their country’s EURO 2016 qualifier against Italy on June 12, a game which was already being played behind closed doors as punishment for racist chanting during a previous home game.
The Croatian FA released an apology shortly after the incident:
We apologize to all fans watching the game on television, to both teams and to our guests from Italy for the Nazi symbol.
As far as we have learned, the symbol was imprinted into the pitch between 24 and 48 hours before the match so that it could be visible during the game.
This is sabotage and a felony, hence we expect police to identify the perpetrators and we have also notified UEFA.
This is a disgrace not just for the HNS (Croatian FA) but for the whole of Croatia.
Despite the point deduction, Croatia remain atop of Group H, now a single point ahead of Italy with four games to be played, and look all but certain to qualify for next summer’s tournament in France.