After more than a month of deliberation, European soccer’s governing body has decided to punish the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) for hosting a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy on a field with a swastika etched on it.
The punishment, handed down by UEFA’s disciplinary committee on Thursday, is four-pronged. Firstly, the team will lose one point in its Euro 2016 qualifying group. Before the deduction, Croatia led Italy by two points in Group H. After the deduction Croatia still leads with two games to go, but now with just 13 points compared to Italy’s 12. Italy has four games left. The top two teams both automatically qualify for next summer’s finals in France. The third-place team, Norway, has 10 points, with three games remaining.
UEFA also ordered the team to play its next two home matches in the Euro competition in an empty stadium, and prohibited play of Croatia’s remaining qualifying matches at the Stadion Poljud in Split, where the swastika appeared. Lastly, UEFA fined the HNS €100,000 (roughly $110,000) for what it called “racist behavior.”
Croatia has three days to appeal, which is not out of the question as the HNS claimed the act was one of “sabotage.”
The swastika went unnoticed before play started in what would end in a 1-1 draw against Italy on June 12. But as the game progressed, photographs taken during the game clearly showed the Nazi symbol etched in the grass.
HNS apologized for the field the day after the game and said it suspected the perpetrator used a chemical agent on the grass 24-48 hours ahead of the game to depict the symbol.
This is not the first time Nazism has infiltrated Croatian soccer. 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.