Prague, Czech Republic – The office of Czech President Milos Zeman this week sent an official complaint to the UEFA disciplinary commission to contest its decision to hand out a 10-match ban to Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudela. Here’s why this controversy has been at the heart of a heated debate in the past few weeks.
Why did UEFA take disciplinary action towards Kudela?
The UEFA disciplinary commission handed out the 10-game ban to Czech player Ondrej Kudela for allegedly racially insulting Glasgow Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara during a Europa League match last month.
After a 1:1 draw in the first leg, Slavia Prague beat the Scottish team 2:0 in Glasgow on March 18, securing their place in the quarter-finals of the tournament.
Towards the end of the heated stand-off between the two sides, Slavia defender Kudela was accused of racially insulting Glen Kamara, a midfielder for the Glasgow Rangers and a Finnish national of Sierra Leonean descent, allegedly calling him a “f…… monkey”. Kudela has denied the allegations and accused Kamara of physically attacking him at the end of the match. The Czech player filed a criminal complaint with the Glasgow police.
Following an investigation into the incident, the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body gave Kudela a 10-match ban for racist behaviour on Wednesday – a decision Kudela is likely to appeal. The disciplinary commission also issued a 3-match and 4-match ban to Glasgow Rangers players Glen Kamara and Kemar Roofe, respectively.
How did the Czech President’s office react?
In the open letter sent this week to UEFA, Vratislav Mynar, head of the Czech President’s office, argued the ban was unfair and disproportionate, especially compared to the milder punishment handed out to the two Glasgow Rangers players.
“You are condemning a decent person without a single piece of evidence,” Mynar wrote, further accusing the Scottish team of rude and unsportsmanlike behaviour during their defeat to Slavia Prague.
Mynar accused UEFA of turning the fight against racism into an “embarrassment” and a “hypocrisy”. According to his chancellor, President Milos Zeman is taking a keen interest in the case, “not only from the point of view of sports, but also from the point of view of justice and human dignity.”
Aamer Anwar, Glen Kamara’s lawyer, slammed M. Mynar’s letter, which “contradicts Slavia Prague’s apology”, and urged the Czech President Zeman to “distance himself from this fanatical statement.” He further argued that such reasoning threatens to empower and legitimize “other racists”.
Saved from bankruptcy in 2015, Slavia Prague has since been in the hands of Chinese investors, a sale itself seen as one of the most emblematic and high-profile moves of President Milos Zeman’s years-long push to increase relations with China.
Jaroslav Tvrdik, Slavia Prague’s chairman since the Chinese takeover, has for years been one of the most active proponents of forging closer ties with Beijing.
What’s the Kudela controversy really about?
The day after the incident, the controversy spilled on social media, with a group of Czech “ultras” posting explicitly racist slurs against Kamara – a move condemned by the management of Slavia Prague. In reaction, the hashtag #banslavia started making the rounds on Twitter and social media to urge UEFA to disqualify the team.
The incident has since become a topic of intense debate in the Czech Republic and divided public opinion. On one side, many insist that no evidence of the racial insult has been found, and claim that not enough attention has been paid to the Glasgow Rangers’ highly aggressive behaviour, both during and after the game.
“The coverage was fundamentally different in the UK and in the Czech Republic,” explained Jiri Hosek, a former correspondent for Czech Radio in the UK. “One big difference, which is hugely disappointing to me as far as the British media is concerned, was that the lack of respect shown by Glasgow Rangers player, the way they behaved on the pitch, was completely ignored with focus just being put on the alleged racist incident on the pitch.”
Other voices have argued that the focus of the media, especially in Britain, on the alleged racial nature of the incident was only a way to avoid confronting the UK’s own problems with racism.
On the other side, many experts estimated that all these arguments, prevalent in Czech media, simply served as a distraction from the main problem at hand: lingering racism in Czech society. “The problem is that many Czechs with real racist views do not accept that they are racists,” Miroslav Mares, an expert on extremism at Brno’s Masaryk University, told Euronews.
“Knowing Czech mentality, I am afraid that the vast majority of fans will just stick to their ‘bubble’. They will think that this is a case of hidden racism towards Central and Eastern Europe,” Jiri Hosek opined for Czech Radio. “I just do not believe that this incident and the way UEFA handled it will contribute to their being less racist abuse in Czech football.”
A string of international studies have highlighted widespread racist sentiment among the Czech population, especially towards Muslim and Roma people.
Despite – or paradoxically, due to – the intense media coverage, the incident has failed to spark a “deep discussion” about the long-running problems of racism and racial prejudices in Czech football circles, and society in general, Vladimira Dvorakova, a political scientist at the Czech Technical University in Prague, said.