Updated: Jun 17, 2021 7:32:29 AM
Austrian striker Marko Arnautovic’s goal against North Macedonia in the 89th minute of their Euro 2020 group game was by no means a final winner. His side comfortably led the game 2-1 until that third goal, and there was no sign of a Macedonian comeback.
But the celebration of Arnautovic’s goal was wild. Much of his assault appeared to have been directed against one of the Macedonian players. Serbian media reported that he used racist language in his outburst. He also made the “OK” hand gesture, a harmless symbol that was until recently used to indicate all is well, but has now become an appropriate symbol of hatred by white supremacists.
Facing pressure from the Macedonian Football Federation (FFM), the governing body of football in Europe, UEFA, has now appointed an ethics and discipline inspector to investigate the incident.
What sparked the celebration of the goal?
While Arnautovic apologized on Instagram for the “passionate remarks” and stressed “I am not a racist”, the FFM statement calling for firm action against him hinted that he had targeted the Macedonian winger Ezgjan Alioski for his Albanian roots.
Arnautovic, whose father is Serbian, is accused of shouting an anti-Albanian insult during the goal celebration, only stopping after his captain David Alaba intervened to hold him back.
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What is behind the animosity?
Even decades after the violent break-up of Yugoslavia, tensions around ethnicity continue to simmer and persist in the Balkan region. Kosovo was the last province of the former Yugoslavia to separate after unilaterally declaring independence from Serbia in 2008. And to this day, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo, where the majority population is made up of ethnic Albanians. ‘ethics.
As the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo resumed negotiations to resolve historic disputes over the territory on Tuesday, hopes of a speedy resolution appear distant, though it is in their best interests to put aside the divide. they want to join the European Union. Relations between Serbia and other Balkan neighbors, in particular Croatia, an EU member that could block or delay its EU membership, have also been traditionally difficult due to the bloody conflicts of the 1990s.
In 2017, North Macedonia also shocked Serbia when its Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said he would support Kosovo’s membership in UNESCO. But the two countries are currently on friendly terms, with Serbia even donating Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines to North Macedonia earlier in February.
Past examples of Balkan politics eclipsing a major tournament
At the 2018 World Cup, Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri were fined £ 7,600 each by FIFA for their goal celebrations. Both players, who have Albanian ties, celebrated by putting their hands together to form a double-headed eagle, similar to that of the Albanian flag, in a group match against Serbia. While Shaqiri was born in Kosovo, Xhaka’s Albanian parents were originally from the country.
What measures could be taken against Arnautovic?
The former West Ham United player will likely miss the tournament if found guilty of racist behavior. According to the 2019 edition of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, any person “who undermines the human dignity of a person or group of persons for any reason whatsoever, including the color of the skin, the race, religion, ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation, may be suspended for at least ten matches or a fixed period, or any other appropriate sanction ”.
Even if UEFA sees the incident more lightly, Arnautovic could still face a match suspension “or a fixed period for: insulting players or others present at the match”.