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“Za Dom Sportova” Chant – What Happened?

13 Dec

An Apology?  An Explanation?

In the 2nd period of the Ak Bars game on Wednesday (12.11), a few fans began chanting “za dom”.  It appears the fans on the other side of the arena were chanting “sportova”, making the entire chant “za Dom Sportova” (I missed the “sportova” piece, but more on this later).  Dom Sportova is the name of the arena KHL Medvescak plays in, so the chant was “for Dom Sportova”.  This was in response to an announcement of games at the new Arena Zagreb, not the favorite venue of Medvescak fans.

During the 2nd intermission, I put out several tweets condemning the “za dom” chants and calling for fans to shout those “idiots” out.  I also said Medvescak themselves should eject those fans if they really are preaching tolerance.  You can find them over at the Bears Hockey Blog Twitter page.

It was not until later in the game when some of the Bears Blog Twitter followers and the official Medvescak Twitter account made me aware that the full chant was “za Dom Sportova”.

A little background on “za dom”.  It was first used during a play in the 1600’s and translates to “for home” or “for homeland”.  When Croatia was a fascist state during World War II, “za dom” and “za dom – spremni!” (for homeland – ready) became salutes for the fascist army aligned with the Nazi Germans.  Much like the swastika (“swastika” literally translates as “it is good”) which was used as a non-fascist symbol prior to Nazi Germany incorporating it into its ethnic cleansing regime, the phrase “za dom” is now synonymous with fascist activities for most observers.

Recently, Australian-born Croatian National Football team player Josip Simunic led a crowd in Zagreb in a “za dom – spremni” chant after the team punched their ticket to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  Simunic stated he was not involved in a racist or nationalist act.  I tend to believe him (others do too).  He was caught up in a moment and that moment had nothing to do with fascism, but helping take your country to the World Cup.

The result:  Fined 3,200 Euros for “spreading racial hatred”, though he was not actually being hateful.

In Latvia, KHL club Dinamo Riga performed a tribute to some of the traditions of Latvian culture during intermission.  One of the most important symbols of Latvian culture is the sun, but their interpretation of what the sun looks like is not always so literal.  So, some skaters paraded on the ice with a “sun” that just happened to look like a swastika.  Initially, the KHL said they respected their traditions and they realized it was not a swastika.

The result:  A reversal.  The KHL fined Dinamo Riga $30,300 (1 million rubles).  They learned that this was the symbol of an military battalion before it was used by Nazi Germany, and not a sun, but also not paying homage to the Nazi regime.  A no tolerance policy.

Points here:

1)       Your actions are not always judged by your intentions.

2)      Like it or not, what the international community think matters and can affect your team.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

First off, I run the Bears Hockey Blog site and Twitter accounts.  However, the consists of several other writers.  I should have never took to the Bears Blog Twitter account to discuss non-hockey issues.  So, to the other writers, I apologize.  Those views were my own.

On the other hand, in the heat of the moment, I felt there was no other way to get my thoughts out and to stop another possible “za dom” chant that evening.  I was trying to harness to power of social media and with that came my feelings at the moment after hearing a fascist chant.

I realize now that the chant with “sportova” added was a play on words, an attempt at humor, mocking the others recently chanting “za dom”.  Well, I should say now that I know “sportova” was being chanted as well I get that it was an attempt at humor.

If I would have heard “sportova” initially, would I have posted those several Twitter messages?


I have a good sense of humor, so I think I would have realized the intention of the fans there.  I would have still thought it was a tasteless joke.  Honestly, I still think anything “za dom” related has no place in a chant or a salute.

But, I did call some people idiots for chanting “za dom”, but since no one was chanting “za dom” but “za Dom Sportova”, then I guess I did not actually call anyone an idiot, right?

It is a dumb argument.  Much like “za Dom Sportova” cannot be offensive to anyone because it was meant to be a joke.  Little known fact: just by adding “sportova” to any phrase gets rid of its negative meaning! (#sarcasm).

Maybe, just maybe, Bears’ fans and Croatians generally can just put this phrase to rest.  It is too volatile and has too much negative connotation to continue to bring up.  Also, why risk Medvescak receiving a fine.  If it happened to Simunic and Dinamo Riga, why could it not happen here because of Wednesday’s incident?  Instead, a local Croatian writer thought it would be smart to bring the situation to light in a recent article, supposedly denouncing my good intention.  I hope no one in the KHL office speaks Croatian…..

Here is a quote from the KHL after the Latvia fine: “”Use of any graphic forms showing Nazi signs and symbols, as well as similar images, are inadmissible for the KHL clubs and their fans.”  Hey FANS, although your chant is not in graphic form, you are jeopardizing the team.

Nevertheless, if you felt I called you an idiot and you were trying to be funny, I sincerely apologize.  This is a small problem that can be solved over a beer or two (on me).  Send me a Twitter message and we can meet during intermission.  @bourciertm.

Also, I apologize to the team’s PR staff for telling them to take action.  It was probably a bit too far.  Though, the club should consider action before this goes too far.

In the meantime, go Bears!


“Ultras” in European sport. #Italians at it again against #UK fans. Does this happen in North America?

23 Nov

Earlier this week, the British press reported on a horrific incident prior to a European football (soccer) match in Rome between Tottenham (UK) and Lazio (Italy). The link to the Guardian article is here if you want to read the whole thing.

The story in a nutshell is that 50 or so Italian “Ultras” dressed in modern suits of armor and equipped with knives bats, and other bludgeons, went into a bar where Tottenham fans were known to be having some drinks and unleashed an attack on the patrons. Several were stabbed and beaten and had to be admitted to the hospital. Others luckily got away unscathed. The bar was also badly damaged in the incident.

An Italian newspaper covering the incident stated the scene looked like “urban warfare” and the worse was feared (read: murder).

I found out about this from Twitter. A Canadian hockey player tweeted about the incident and exclaimed this was the difference between European and North American sports. In North America, you can wear your teams opposing jersey and be fairly safe, with a verbal assault or beer thrown on you here or there. At first, I completely agreed….but then I thought that our games are not completely without violence.

To be fair, Canada had a crazy riot in Vancouver in 2011. In a preseason baseball, there was huge fight out in California. The Philadelphia Eagles have notoriously rowdy fans and even had a courtroom to process illegal offenders in Veterans Stadium. I have had friends who were not allowed into several bars during the Stanley Cup playoffs in Pittsburgh while wearing a Red Wings jersey. To my Canadian friend’s credit though, we do not get a gang of 50 people in protective gear and premeditate attacks on opposing team members. This gets me back to the Ultras….

When I first attended my first soccer match in Budapest we encountered a wall scrawled with “solo ultras” in spray paint. I initially thought Ultras might have been the team mascot. Ultras are actually the crazy, fanatic, super fans.


A weathered Ujpest Ultras sticker on a light pole outside of Ferenc Szusza Stadium north of Budapest.

Ultras have even been studied academically. In the linked study, Ultras are described as a European phenomenon that do “not deliberately set out to commit violence”. They consider themselves the ultimate fan and demand attention from the club. They also spend a lot of money each game on elaborate pyrotechnic demonstrations (often in excess of 4,500 Euros per game). Seeing the pregame demonstrations in person, I must admit they are pretty amazing, but anything similar is strictly prohibited across the Atlantic.

Ok-so the problem is not all of the Ultras. But, in specific countries, Ultras are an issue. In Hungary, some Ujpest and Ferencvaros fans have been known to meet in a location away from the security of the game to brawl. If people want to get together and voluntarily beat each other, it is a little weird I suppose, but they are all adults. The problem is with innocent by-standards being harmed.

If these incidents are rare, then the police rightfully should look at them as a few bad apples and prosecute them as necessary. A major problem arises when there are multiple incidents and the government allows matches to continue. It appears some Middleborough fans were attacked in Rome in the same manner prior to a match against AS Roma in 2006.

What’s worse? Some Eastern European teams disguise their sports fandome for nutcase right-wing political ideology. In Czech Republic and Serbia, there have been recent incidents monkey chants at black players on opposing teams. I wrote about these issues, as well as the anti-Semetic incidents in Hungary in a soccer match against the Israeli National Team. Government’s have been complicit in some instances by not investigating when they should and implicit when their governments share a similar ideology (Hungary’s third largest party, Jobbik, are deeply anti-Semitic and anti-Roma).

So what should be done? UEFA has begun punishing national teams for their behavior (Croatia fined $100,000 for racist chants against Italy this summer). I think this is the right direction.

On that note, I think all games in Rome should be suspended after at least two wild incidents over the past seven years. You could argue that punishing all football fans because of 50 thugs is unneccessary. This is no longer about sports, but for keeping the safety of innocent tourists. Rome has a huge tourism industry and if they cannot protect their tourists, they should dissuade them from coming until they can address the problem. Punishment must include self-policing from the teams and from the real “Ultras”. I believe it will take the courage to suspend all games by the government, preventing these cowardly acts until proper action can be made.

Anti-Semitism and Nationalism in Hungarian Sports

6 Nov

I began drafting this as one of my first posts and then decided against it.  Hungarians, in my year here, tend to be very soft-spoken…generally polite.  My Croatian friends says the men have a reputation in her country as being gentleman.  I thought I should not publicize my generally good experience in Hungary and Europe with a negative story about a few bad apples.

Yet, I read a post yesterday on another sports guys hockey blog about racist chants against a black player in the Czech Republic, Wayne Simmonds. You can check it out here.

I thought the Velvet Hockey blog post was interesting in the way it characterized the fan base in Czech Republic, which I think can be generalized for fans throughout Europe: basically normal fans (handclappers), serious fans (think Philadelphia Eagles – rabid) and Nationalistic fans.  The last category is the one I am most unfamiliar with coming from the U.S. and following North American sports.

When I first started working with the local team here, there was a sign on the door showing the items that are outlawed in the arena.  You can imagine the things normally listed: no smoking, no outside alcoholic beverages, no weapons, etc.  Of the nine things on the sign, the first item you see in the upper-right hand corner of the prohibited list: no swastikas.  This obviously means no anti-Semitic propaganda can be shown at the games.  I thought this was odd, but I didn’t really understand the level of racism by fans in Budapest.

The big rivalry (‘derby’ is what rivalries are called in Europe) is between Ujpest – the northern neighborhood team – and Ferencvaros – the southern city team.  Here is a brief Wikipedia history of the matchup.  Basically, it is a crosstown rivalry of two teams that have been playing against each other in football since the 1920s.  We were told not to bring our children, which was easy because we don’t have any.  You get the point though….

Upon our normally quiet journey to the Ujpest neighborhood there were over 300 police officers dressed in full riot gear near the stadium.  There were tons numerous fans in the hooligans section with shaved heads and tattoos – stereotypical of racist skinheads.  On the other side of the stadium, there was a sign designed like the Hungarian flag with “White Front” (in Hungarian) written across it.  I thought maybe I was being overly sensitive, because of the way Americans can be over-the-top with our politically correctness in America concerning race issues.  I came home and Google searched the White Front sign and it appears the sign may have been indicative of a cheering section for a popular former player Feher (white in Hungarian).  I was glad to know that maybe I was misreading things…..until this…

During a friendly between the Hungarian and Israeli national teams in Budapest, there were some extremely offensive acts occurring throughout the game.  Elected officials with the Nationalist Jobbik party were holding up Iranian flags and there were reports that the name of an infamous Hungarian concentration camp were being chanted during the day.  An in-depth discussion of the incidents and a link to an article from an Israeli newspaper can be found over at the Hungarian Spectrum blog.

Ok, the Nationalistic fans are an interesting, if deplorable, group of people that are interesting in the sense this is a type of fan you don’t see in North American sports.  It is curious to me to why a sporting match is a place that they feel they wish to air their offensive politics.  However, it appears that while this occurs in other nations outside of Hungary, it is rare, non-violent and government’s have investigated and punished fans (including multiyear bans from stadiums).  Where I see the problem is when governments fail to act on these matters.  In Hungary, the third largest political party is the Jobbik party, where at least one of their officials led anti-Semetic chants.  This is the same party that recently burnt an Israeli flag at the City’s main synagogue on Hungary’s Independence Day last week.  This is the same party, that at least partially, votes to provide funding and tax breaks to sports teams.

How can we expect to change what should be a time where politics don’t matter when the elected officials are leading racist chants?  Where the clubs are receiving government funds and cannot challenge this behavior?  This is a big question that must be answered recent incidents here in Hungary, Czech Republic, Serbia and the rest of the world still coming out from behind the Iron Curtain.