FIFA is currently considering disciplinary action against Croatian soccer player Josip Simunic and fans after the defender led the crowd in what appeared to be pro-Nazi chants in a celebration of the country's World Cup berth.
Croatia qualified for the 2014 World Cup on Tuesday by beating Iceland, 2-0, in the second leg of their playoff matchup. After the match, the crowd at Maksimir Stadium began a boisterous celebration, at which point Simunic took a microphone and led the fans in a call-and-response chant with Nazi ties, according to the Associated Press.
However, Simunic denies the report via BBC:
Simunic, who was born in Australia, said in a statement released on Wednesday: "Even the thought that someone could put me in the context of incitement of hatred or violence is horrible.
"As a Croatian who was born and grew up outside my homeland, I associate home with love, warmth and positive struggle - everything that we showed on the pitch to win our place in the World Cup.
"And these were the only reasons I got carried away with my emotions and why I started the kind of exchange with the supporters."
The chant—in which Simunic shouts "For the homeland" and the fans respond with "Ready"—was used by Ustashas, a governing body in Croatia that oversaw the slaughtering of Jews and Serbians who housed in concentration camps during World War II.
While the call-and-response and other Nazi-related salutes have become somewhat regular at Croatian matches, FIFA has taken a stand against the perceived anti-Semitism. Earlier this month, FIFA fined both Croatia and Greece over the prejudicial actions and comments of their fans in recent matches.
Since video leaked of the Croatian celebration, there have been calls from across the world for action to be taken and even some disappointment expressed within the country. In a statement given to the Associated Press, FIFA, which governs international soccer, indicated it would look into disciplinary action again.
"We are in the process of analyzing the different match officials' reports and gathering information," the statement read in the AP report.
For his part, Simunic, 35, has denied his celebration carried any racial or anti-Semitic undertones. Speaking on the possibility of discipline, he took a defiant stance against anyone who was upset.
"Some people have to learn some history. I'm not afraid," Simunic said. "I did nothing wrong. I'm supporting my Croatia, my homeland. If someone has something against it, that's their problem."
Born in Australia, Simunic has been a member of the Croatian national team since 2001. He participated in both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, most famously being sent off against his native country seven years ago after receiving multiple bookings. He's one of the most capped players in Croatian history and is expected to play a big part in the country's run in Rio de Janeiro.
It's unclear what level of punishment FIFA is planning, but a fine or possibly even suspension is possible. If suspended, the AP notes that it could carry over to the World Cup, where Croatia is making its fourth appearance since gaining independence in 1991.
Simunic currently plays for Dinamo Zagreb, a power in Croatia's top soccer outfit. In a statement released along with the club on Wednesday, Simunic said that his gesture was one of "love" and made it clear he did not mean it as a sign of Nazi allegiance, per the AP.
"The thought that anyone could associate me with any form of hatred or violence terrifies me," the statement said.
FIFA's potential punishment in regard to fan actions will likely be another fine for Croatia, which could exceed the previous amount of about $38,000.
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