FIFA have taken another step forward in their attempts to eradicate racism and discrimination from the world of soccer. Josip Simunic of Croatia has been handed a 10-match ban on international play.
The incident itself took place in the moments following Croatia’s World Cup play-off match against Iceland. While celebrating their 2-0 victory, Simunic was found guilty to have incited pro-Nazi chants among fans. According to FIFA’s statements about the matter, “the salute was discriminatory and offended the dignity of a group of persons.”
The statement continued, “After taking into account all of the circumstances of the case, and particularly given the gravity of the incident, the committee decided to suspend the player for ten official matches.
“Moreover, the committee decided that the player will be banned from entering the confines of the stadiums with regard to the ten matches for which he is suspended.”
Simunic denies any political intent in his actions, despite video footage of him shouting a fascist slogan to the crowd… over a microphone.
The ban will effectively cause the Croatian defender to miss the upcoming World Cup. The first match he will miss stands to be one of Croatia’s greatest matches of all time. They have drawn the opening match of the World Cup against the host country Brazil.
That fact Croatia will be without one of their most internationally experienced players will certainly make a statement in terms of the repercussions for discrimination. Perhaps though, the reaction from FIFA may not be enough.
Eastern European clubs and countries have been a problem for soccer’s governing bodies in recent times. It has been stated by these organizations (FIFA/UEFA) that clubs whose supporters engage in discriminatory behavior have sanctions imposed on the entire club.
Although Simunic was instrumental in what happened in the stadium that day, the crowd cannot go without blame. If the world of football wishes to extinguish discrimination from its matches, it has to make a stronger statement.
While many experts believe that it is simply impossible to completely racism and discrimination from the sport, I cannot agree. Yes, it may be an arduous task. It may take over a hundred years, but it can be done. History has shown that people can change their ways and beliefs. However, if change is to occur, it has to start with the players on the pitch. Simunic needs to be a role model for fans and supporters, as well as his fellow countrymen. As an established international, every football fan in his country looks to him when he takes the field.