FIFA has opened a probe against Australian-born Croatia defender Josip Simunic for his pro-Nazi chants that marred the country’s World Cup qualification celebrations.
“Disciplinary proceedings have been opened,” a FIFA spokesman told AFP on Friday, declining to make further comment on the case.
Following Croatia’s 2-0 home win against Iceland on Tuesday that saw them advance from their World Cup qualifying play-off after a goalless first leg, Simunic took over a microphone at the Maksimir stadium in the Croatian capital Zagreb.
He shouted “za dom” – Croatian for “for the homeland” – four times. In response, fans chanted “spremni”, meaning “ready”.
The chanted salute was used by Croatia’s pro-Nazi Ustasha regime, which during World War II killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, anti-fascist Croatians, Roma and others in concentration camps.
On Thursday, Croatian prosecutors said that Simunic had been fined 25,000 kunas ($A4,700) for inciting racial hatred, adding that the player was aware that the chant symbolised the official salute of Croatia’s totalitarian regime.
Simunic has argued that he was motivated purely by his love of the Croatian nation, denying any political intent and saying the emotion of the moment was the only reason.
Now 35 and captain of Dinamo Zagreb, he is the son of Croatian immigrants and was born in the Australian capital Canberra.
He has spent the bulk of his career in Europe, chiefly in Germany’s Bundesliga, before moving to Dinamo in 2011.
Simunic made his Croatia debut in 2001.
His chants were condemned by President Ivo Josipovic, the government and Croatian Serb leader Milorad Pupovac.
However, the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) on Friday denied that the chants had any pro-Nazi connotations, instead calling them “inappropriate”.
“Simunic’s behaviour is inappropriate … the HNS has regulations on players’ behaviour and we will react,” the HNS executive Damir Vrbanovic told reporters.
FIFA and European football’s governing body UEFA have on several occasions fined Croatia for their fans’ racist behaviour.