Croatia’s Systemic Racism Problem


In the last ten years Croatia have made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The majority of media coverage surrounding the team has been in connection to the racist behavior of their fans instead of the men on the pitch

The Panenka reviews Croatia’s racist history where the unwelcome behavior has not just been limited to the stands but throughout the national football association.

June 2008

At Euro 2008 UEFA fined the Croatia Football Federation (HNS) around $15,000. European football’s governing body imposed the fine after the fans were found guilty of “displaying a racist banner and showing racist conduct” during the Euro 2008 quarter final against Turkey.

After the tournament the HNS denounced the behavior of the fans in a statement. “Such a behavior is not a characteristic behavior of true Croatian fans,” it said.

The game itself was one to remember. After 119 minutes of stalemate Ivan Klasnic thought he’d won it for Croatia. Three minutes later in stoppage time of extra time Semih Senturk scored an equalizer to take the game to penalties. Turkey won the resulting shootout and progressed to the semi finals before being knocked out by Germany.

 September 2008

A matter of months later the HNS was fined again. This time they were fined in the region of $18,000 for the racist behavior of some of their supporters in a World Cup qualifier against England.

England striker Emile Heskey was subjected to monkey-chants from a small section of the crowd at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb. It was the second time in a matter of months Croatian fans has been found guilty of racist behavior and FIFA’s disciplinary committee warned that further incidents could result in “more severe sanctions”.

This particular incident brought the microscope onto football’s governing bodies. The likes of FIFA and UEFA were beginning to be questioned over whether issuing fines of this type were enough of a deterrent to Football Federations around the world.


Josip Simunic leads Croatia’s celebrations in November 2013.

June 2012

Croatia did not qualify for World Cup 2010 in South Africa but their fans were at it again at Euro 2012 . After the second group game against Italy UEFA announced it would be taking action over alleged monkey-chanting directed at the Italy striker Mario Balotelli. A photographer also claimed he witnessed a banana being thrown onto the pitch.

This time the HNS received an $80,000 fine. They were also fined a further $25,000 as punishment for fans setting off and throwing fireworks in the previous group game against Republic of Ireland.

In the final group game against Spain in Gdansk Croatia were eliminated from the tournament by a 1-0 defeat. Disciplinary proceedings were opened once more against Croatia for the “display of racist banners and symbols.”

October 2013

 A 2-1 World Cup qualifying defeat against Belgium resulted in the HNS being fined $38,000. During the game “Croatian supporters made far-right salutes which were used during World War II by the fascist Ustase movement,” fan monitoring group FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) reported to FIFA.

Despite crucial play-off qualifiers occurring a week later, FIFA issued the fine with another warning that any further behavior of this nature would result in partial or full ground closures.


November 2013

Croatia international Josip Simunic was banned for 10 games by FIFA amid the celebrations of the country qualifying for World Cup 2014 after a 2-0 play-off win against Iceland.

The 35-year-old Simunic had grabbed a microphone at the end of the match in Zagreb on November 19 and shouted loudly “za dom,” translated from Croatian as “for the homeland,” with the crowd replying “spremni”, meaning “ready”, four times in response.

 The chant is deemed particularly offensive due to its symbolism to the Croatian fascist movement who were allied with the Nazis during the Second World War. Simunic was actually born in Australia and his actions were most likely born out of ignorance than hate. Despite an appeal to the European Court of Arbitration he missed the World Cup in Brazil.

When the ten game ban had elapsed HNS president Davor Suker appointed the defender as assistant coach to manager Ante Cacic for Euro 2016.

June 2014

During two group games at the 2014 World Cup Croatia were reported to FARE for displaying neo-Nazi banners in games against South Korea and Brazil. In light of the allegations FIFA took no action.

At the 2014 World Cup Croatia were eliminated in the group stages after losing 3-1 to hosts Brazil and 3-1 to Mexico, they beat Cameroon 4-0 in their other group game.


Croatia fans launch flares onto the pitch at the San Siro in 2014.

December 2014

Croatia was ordered to partially close its stadium as punishment for fans’ racist and hooligan behavior in Italy during Euro 2016 qualifier. The match was halted at on two separate occasions as flares were thrown onto the pitch. The second stoppage resulted in the game being paused for 12 minutes.

As the teams left the field amid a hostile atmosphere riot police were deployed at the San Siro. The UEFA disciplinary panel ordered the closure of an 8,000-seat section of Maksimir Stadium for their Euro 2016 qualifying match against Norway.

The match ended in a 1-1 draw. Candreva put Italy ahead on 11 minutes but Ivan Persic canceled out the lead moments later.

April 2015

Croatia were ordered to play a crucial Euro 2016 qualifier against second placed Italy behind closed doors due to problems more hooliganism and racist behavior in their 5-1 win against Norway.

The match itself already had a portion of the stadium cordoned off due to fan behavior in the previous game in Milan.

The Balkan nation was handed the ban after fans were found guilty of racist chanting and throwing fireworks onto the pitch. HNS were also handed a fine in the region of $45,000.

June 2015

In the preparations to the behind closed doors Euro 2016 qualifier with Italy it came to light that someone had imprinted a Nazi swastika into the pitch. At half time the ground staff made efforts to remove the sign but it was still visible from inside the stadium and on television. It is not known if the Nazi insignia was burnt into the field using a chemical agent or mown into the grass.

HNS blamed “sabotage” but it did not prevent UEFA from handing out a fine of around $100,000, a further two-game stadium ban on fans and the deduction of one point from their qualifying group. Croatia were also barred from holding any of their remaining qualifiers in Split.

Despite the point deduction Croatia still booked their place at Euro 2016 in France with an automatic spot via a 2nd placed finish. The stadium ban did not deter the Croatian team as they convincingly beat Azerbaijan 6-0 in Osijek and Malta 2-0 in Zagreb.

August 2015

Croatia banned their own fans from the team’s remaining Euro 2016 away qualifiers fearing racist incidents could get them thrown out of the competition entirely.

“There will be no organized section for Croatian fans in games at Azerbaijan on September 3, Norway on September 6 and Malta on October 13,” the HNS announced.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.