Prague - Football fans in the Czech Republic are known for their occasional display of racist and anti-Semitic behavior, throwing bananas on the field to mock African players or chanting "Jude" towards the opposing side. Now they have a good excuse: their idols are not any better.
The Czech football federation´s disciplinary committee gave Sparta Praha captain Pavel Horváth a fine on Thursday of 200 thousand Czech Crowns (roughly 10 thousand USD) for "tarnishing the good image of Czech football" during the recent league match against Sparta´s city rival Viktoria Žižkov.
"The player committed the offense by using the visual part of Nazi salute, or heiling," said the committee head Alexander Károlyi, reading from the statement.
As he explained, the committee consulted Mr Miroslav Mareš who is a legal expert on extremism.
"Nothing like that"
Present to hear the verdict, Horváth limited himself to repeating the same sentences with which he had defended himself after the case became publicly known in the media.
"Despite the fine I can only repeat I consider the gesture unfortunate but it had nothing to do with fascism, racism or anything like that. I have nothing else to say," he told reporters immediately after hearing the verdict.
He gave no reaction to the extent of the fine either. The amount may equal roughly third of his monthly salary in Sparta.
It is by far the highest penalization for an individual Mr Károlyi has seen as the chair of the disciplinary committee. The maximum Horváth could have been fined was 500 thousand CZK.
Neither Sparta, nor its midfielder intend to appeal the verdict, according to the team´s spokesman Lukáš Přibyl.
The committee opened the case only after the video taken during the August 25 match appeared on the internet and caught interest of the media. There was no mention of the incident in the match report filed by the official delegate.
Horváth gave his own version before the committee of what happened on August 25, stressing he only had a sketchy memory of it.
"The fans were misbehaving towards the end of the match. There was a danger the match will be cut short. I went to (the assistant coach) Horst Siegl who was already trying to calm the fans. Then the moment happened which has been shown in the media and which I no longer recall precisely," said Sparta´s captain.
"I do reject that the gesture had anything to do with racism or any other ideology. I do not even know how to do such gesture. I regret if I offended somebody and I have already apologized for the gesture," Horváth added.
In his expert assessment Mr Mareš said he believed Pavel Horváth had indeed used part of the Nazi salute (raising of the right arm), but had not displayed extremist behavior.
The key part in the expert report which had probably convinced the committee to penalize the player is as follows:
"Horváth went to calm the fans who were chanting something which sounded similar to "Sieg Heil", or the verbal accompaniment of Nazi salute. The player then used its visual part by placing his hand towards his chest followed by raising of his right arm. He may have tried to entertain and calm the fans by superficially sympathizing with Nazism."
The weight of the argument has been disputed by the spokesman of Sparta who claimed the fans were probably chanting the name of assistant coach "Siegl Horst".
Aside from Pavel Horváth and Sparta´s representative the committee heard from the football federation´s delegate to the match, Mr. Jan Lávička, who did not write anything about the Nazi salute incident in the official match report.
You can find the story in its original Czech version here.