Is there any professional sports league in the world more troubled than Serbia’s top soccer division? Yesterday’s championship ended in utter confusion, after one side walked off to protest some questionable refereeing. Though I haven’t yet seen video of the plays in question, the losing players had every right to be suspicious—Serbia has endured its fair share of match-fixing scandals in recent months, not to mention death threats levied against officials and numerous riots. If ever a sports league was in need of a latter-day Kenesaw Mountain Landis to clean things up, Serbia’s top division is it.
One of the things I find saddest about the league’s woes is the fact that the hooligans at the heart of its problems are simply tools of powerful interests bent on undermining the popularly elected government. Among the puppet masters is fugitive drug lord Darko Saric, who allegedly egged along a riot in Italy last year:
Serbia face a ban from international football after their supporters rioted and caused Tuesday night’s Euro 2012 qualifier with Italy in Genoa to be abandoned after six minutes. Italian police arrested 17 people, including the ring leader who was found hiding in the boot of a bus, following the violence that left 16 people, including two policemen, injured…
Reports from Serbia yesterday said the riot was an orchestrated demonstration of political violence designed to destabilise the pro-Western government and alienate the country from the rest of Europe. The drug baron Darko Saric, who is on the run, was allegedly behind the ugly scenes that included thugs fighting with riot police and throwing flares on to the pitch, one of which nearly hit the Italy goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano.
More on the high-level manipulation of Serbian soccer hooligans in this 2004 piece, which describes how Belgrade’s most feared fan group is bent to serve ultra-nationalist causes. I have to wonder whether the majority of hooligans realize they’re being conned by those who care more about political power than sport. I’m guessing no; this guy certainly doesn’t look like much of a critical thinker.
(By the way, Darko Saric isn’t just confining his anti-government campaign to the soccer pitch; he’s also become fond of lobbing missiles at those who might dare speak against him.)