Monday, October 10, 2011
Bosnia, Sarajevo: Bosnian football fans and officials say a bitter political crisis between Serbs, Croats and Muslims is stoking tension that saw rival fans fighting in the capital Sarajevo on Thursday
Football violence in Yugoslavia presaged the wars that tore the country apart in the early 1990s, most notoriously in the Croatian capital Zagreb in 1990 when rioting erupted between fans of Dinamo Zagreb and Belgrade's Red Star.
Paramilitaries would later draw on the most hardcore football fans to swell their ranks.
Few observers believe there is an imminent danger of conflict, but the political stalemate is the worst in years, and an influential think tank warned on Thursday against further political brinkmanship.
"The agility of leaders and the population's patience need only fail once to ignite serious violence," the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report.
Thursday's friendly between two cult teams - Croatian Hajduk Split and Bosnian Zeljeznicar - was cancelled before kick-off after rival fans turned the streets of Sarajevo into a battlefield, injuring dozens of people and damaging cars.
It was the third such incident in the past two weeks, in what fans and officials say is the direct result of a worsening stand-off between Bosnia's Muslim, Serb and Croat leaders.
A year since national elections, they have yet to form a central government, stoking rhetoric and hurting the economy.
"This makes you think it's not just the end of football but of normal life in our country," said Ivica Osim, Bosnia's most prominent soccer coach and chairman of a committee set up by soccer governing bodies UEFA and FIFA to temporarily lead Bosnia's Football Federation (NFSBiH).
"Some centres of power want to destroy everything leading towards integration and reconciliation," said Osim, who led the former Yugoslavia team to the 1990 World Cup quarter-final. He said the violence recalled the period before the break-up of the former Yugoslav federation.
On Thursday, fighting first erupted inside the stadium when Hajduk fans appeared to attack their Zeljeznicar rivals before police intervened and drove them out. The battle continued outside after Zeljeznicar fans threw stones at a convoy of Hajduk fans, injuring at least six.
One seriously-injured Hajduk fan was operated on in the Sarajevo hospital, medical officials said.
"I see the cause for the frequent unrest at football matches in the current unstable political situation," Gradimir Gojer, president of the Zeljeznicar Managing Board, said late on Thursday.
Fan violence halted two games late last month, the first in the Bosnian Serb republic's main town Banja Luka and then in the ethnically-divided town of Mostar.
"I will never again go to a soccer match," said football fan Dragan Soldo, 52, who said he had never missed a Zeljeznicar match. "I don't understand what is happening," he said on Friday. "I feel awful, disgusted".
Bosnia, which has never qualified for a major international tournament, is hoping to clinch a play-off berth when they meet Luxembourg in a Euro 2012 qualifier on Friday. For many Bosnians, the team carries the hopes of those who wish to preserve a united Bosnia.
In April, UEFA and FIFA suspended Bosnia from all international competitions over the failure of the country's football federation to replace its three-man multi-ethnic presidency with a single president.
The suspension was lifted in June after the committee headed by former Yugoslavia coach Osim was created as an interim body to lead the federation until a vote on the presidency.