Nazism once again tainted a soccer match in Croatia, when the country’s soccer association was forced to apologize for playing its Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy on Friday on a field with a Nazi swastika etched into it.
“We apologize to all viewers, our guests from Italy and the players from both teams, for the Nazi symbol on the Poljud Stadium grass,” Croatian Football Federation spokesman Tomislav Pacak said in a statement posted to the group’s official Web site on Saturday.
Pacak said the federation has already notified UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, which has grown used to dealing with this type of incident in the country.
UEFA had already ordered the match on Friday to be played in the empty stadium in Split, Croatia, as punishment for when a group of Croatian fans lit flares and chanted racist slogans during a match against Norway in March.
Pacak called Friday’s incident “an obvious act of sabotage and a criminal act,” and condemned the perpetrators, who are suspected of using a chemical agent on the field 24 to 48 hours before kickoff.
Members of the Italian Football Federation were the first to alert UEFA officials of the swastika on the field, the Independent reports, and stadium officials attempted to cover the swastika up during halftime of the match that ended in a 1-1 draw.
“Once again, we express regret and condemn this act, and we apologize to all the viewers, guests and players from both teams,” Pacak said, adding that the federation has contacted police and judicial bodies in an attempt to track down those responsible.
The former Yugoslavian nation has a history of Nazi incidents on its soccer fields. Most prominently, Croatian soccer star Josip Simunic led a pro-Nazi chant in 2013 to celebrate the country’s 2014 World Cup berth. Simunic was later banned from Croatia’s World Cup team by FIFA for his actions.