Prague (AFP) – Racism will be firmly in the spotlight when Sparta Prague face Lyon in the Europa League on Thursday, two months after UEFA ordered the Czech club to play behind closed doors over racist chants.
During a Champions League qualifier in August, Sparta fans aimed monkey chants at Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni when he scored.
UEFA then banned supporters for Sparta’s stadium for a Europa League game against Rangers, although it allowed some 10,000 children to attend.
However, the schoolchildren booed Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara, who was allegedly the victim of racist abuse from Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudela a few months earlier.
Rangers asked UEFA to act, claiming the booing was racially motivated, but UEFA dropped the investigation over “insufficient evidence” last week.
However, questions about the Czech approach to racism from football supporters persist.
Sparta spokesman Ondrej Kasik told AFP the club “took certain repressive measures aimed at specific people… including a criminal complaint” after the Monaco game.
Sparta also sent an open letter to Tchouameni to apologise, but its fans were unimpressed — a month later, they poured racist chants onto Viktoria Plzen’s black players, earning their club a fine from the Czech Football Association.
– Security threat –
While Czech football authorities did not comment on the issue, football pundit Ludek Madl from the Seznam Zpravy news website said they took a lukewarm approach to racism.
“Every time there is a remarkable problem with racism, everyone stands up to formally condemn it and some fines are imposed, though not really substantial,” he told AFP.
“But I don’t think they are looking for a systematic solution.”
Even though racist chants are remarkably less frequent than a decade ago, Czech society is still grappling with latent racism.
“People see Africans primarily as black, and a considerable part of our nation does not understand this could be a problem,” Madl said.
Czech politicians do little to help as all elections since a wave of migrants arrived in 2015 have been marked by an anti-migrant narrative, pushed by politicians including the country’s outspoken President Milos Zeman.
Almost 50 percent of Czechs see immigrants as a security threat, according to a 2020 poll by the Czech Academy of Sciences.
Sparta fans subjected French defender Florent Poulolo from Sigma Olomouc to monkey chants in the very first league game this season in July.
“I was very angry and I even felt like leaving the pitch,” Poulolo said in a statement.
“AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN !! Nothing has changed… euuuh no correction ‘The federation doesn’t change anything’,” Plzen striker Jean-David Beauguel tweeted in reaction.
– ‘Rotten fruit’ –
The poor reputation of Czech fans appeared to even extend to the children booing Kamara as Sparta faced Rangers late last month.
Kamara’s lawyer Aamer Anwar called for punishment, claiming that the children booed all the black players, not just Kamara.
Scottish FA adviser Michael Bartley likened Czech fans to “rotten fruit”, which led Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek to summon the British ambassador to Prague to complain.
Czech fans meanwhile insisted they had targeted Kamara not because of the colour of his skin, but because of a 10-match ban imposed by UEFA on Kudela for racist abuse, which was perceived as too high across the country.
Kamara himself got a three-game ban for allegedly punching Kudela after the game in March.
The Czech presidential office even stepped in and sent an official complaint to UEFA over the Kudela ban.
President Zeman has never minced his words when it came to immigrants, and he has repeatedly called the Black Lives Matter movement racist.
Czech fans seemed to share the sentiment when they booed Wales players taking the knee in support of the movement ahead of a World Cup qualifier in Prague earlier this month.
“There is a broad conviction among Czech fans that the West is overdoing the problem of racism, while we have a more balanced approach. And that’s not right,” said Madl.