Croatia defender Josip Simunic will miss the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil after being suspended for 10 matches by world soccer’s governing body for making pro-Nazi chants at the end of last month’s playoff victory over Iceland, FIFA said in a statement on Monday.
The Croatian Football Association was shocked by the severity of the ban and said it may appeal.
“The disciplinary committee took note that the player, together with the crowd, shouted a Croatian salute that was used during World War II by the fascist ‘Ustase’ movement,” it said.
“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 10 official matches,” FIFA added.
At the end of Croatia’s 2-0 win on Nov. 19, Australia-born Simunic took the microphone at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, turned to the stands and shouted: Za dom (for the homeland), to which the audience replied Spremni (ready).
The call-and-response salute is widely associated with Croatia’s Nazi-allied Ustasha regime, which brutally persecuted Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croats.
Simunic, who plays for Dinamo Zagreb, said in a statement last month that he meant no harm.
“As a Croatian who was born and grew up outside my homeland, I associate home with love, warmth and positive struggle — everything we showed on the pitch to win our place in the World Cup,” he said.
The 35-year-old was also fined US$33,800 and “banned from entering the confines of the stadiums with regard to the 10 matches for which he is suspended.”
The ban appears particularly severe, especially in view of the relatively light punishments usually dished out to national teams and club sides for racist behavior.
“We are shocked and we will probably appeal the verdict,” Croatian Football Association executive president Damir Vrbanovic told the Jutarnji List daily.