BELGRADE, Serbia – The racial abuse that black English players suffered during a soccer match in Serbia wasn't the first time such problems have occurred at the hands of Serbian fans. On Tuesday, the under-21 England players suffered abuse in Krusevac, Serbia, including monkey chants and objects thrown onto the field. The British government is now urging UEFA to impose "tough sanctions" against Serbia, and the decision could be influenced by similar problems in the past.
UEFA President Michel Platini had warned Serbia in February 2011 of possible expulsion of its clubs and the national team from international competitions, if its notorious fans continued to cause trouble. Platini personally issued the warning during a meeting with Serbia's former President Boris Tadic in Belgrade. In 2007, the Serbian Football Association was fined a small amount — >16,000 — after supporters racially abused England players at the under-21 Euros in Holland.
The nation's soccer fans are notorious for causing trouble at home and abroad. UEFA awarded Italy a 3-0 win over Serbia after a European Championship qualifier in Genoa, Italy, in 2010 was stopped when Serbia supporters threw flares and fireworks onto the field, burned a flag and broke barriers. Police then clashed with Serbian fans outside the stadium. A Belgrade court last year convicted 14 Serbian fans and sent them to prison for the fatal beating of a French soccer fan in the capital before Partizan Belgrade's Europa League soccer match against Toulouse, France, in September 2009.
Soccer fan organizations in Serbia have been infiltrated by extreme right-wing groups who propagate anti-Western xenophobia and intolerance toward foreigners, blacks, ethnic groups and minorities, including gays. The notoriety of the fans dates back to the wars in the Balkans when they were recruited to fight rival Bosnian Muslims and Catholic Croats as paramilitary forces, including the late warlord Zeljko Raznatovic's "Arkan's Tigers." Groups of soccer fans also have allegedly been involved in drug trafficking and other illegal trade.
Despite repeated pledges to crack down on violent soccer fan groups, Serbia's authorities have done little to prevent such problems. Instead, they have repeatedly bowed to threats from such groups, including when police cancel gay pride marches after extremists threaten to attack them.
SOCCER IN THE BALKANS
Serbia's fans are not the only troublemakers in the Balkan region. Platini has also warned Croatia of severe punishment if its right-wing extremist fans continue racial abuses against black players and chanting pro-Nazi songs that usually target rival Serbs. Despite repeated incidents since the warning last year, UEFA has only imposed financial punishments of the Croatian Football Association.