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“Glory to Ukraine, Shame to FIFA?” Organization Faces Backlash Over Cautioning Croatian Footballer
10 July, 2018

Allowing Russia to host the World Cup this year was already not the best move for FIFA if they were ever planning to get into Ukraine’s good books. But now the International Federation of Association Football has gone one step further by cautioning a Croatian football player for chanting “Glory to Ukraine” in a private video. The action led to public outrage among the Ukrainian nation, as well as FIFA’s Facebook page rating going down to the average of 1.1 stars.

Photo credit: EPA-EFE/RONALD WITTEK

Hromadske takes a look at what happened, the history of the patriotic slogan and whether FIFA’s move is actually that surprising.

The Video That Got Everyone Talking

Despite Ukraine not qualifying for this year’s World Cup hosted across various Russian cities, amid the country’s ruthless war against Ukraine, many Ukrainians caught footie fever when two Croatians decided to dedicate their July 7 win over Russia to Ukraine.

Celebrating the victory post-match, Croatian defender and one of the evening’s scorers (the game finished with 4-3 in a penalty shootout) Domagoj Vida was joined by Croatia’s assistant coach Ognjen Vukojevic in the locker room to record a social media video. The video shows Vida saying “Glory to Ukraine” in Russian and Vukojevic replying that he dedicates this victory to Ukraine and its Dynamo Kyiv football club. Both men played for the Kyiv football team in the past, with Vukojevic continuing his commitments with Dynamo to this day by working for them as a scout.

Having received over three million views on YouTube, the video was guaranteed to catch attention outside Ukraine, drawing criticism from Russian politicians and FIFA. Vida was forced to explain his behavior, denying any political connotation.

Photo credit: EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO

“There’s no politics in football,” he said to Russian sports news website euro-football.ru, “I love Russians, and I love Ukrainians. My friend Vukojevic used to play and now works for Kyiv’s Dynamo [football club.] Ciao!”

Russia and FIFA React

Among Russia’s most vocal critics of Croatia’s antics was member of the Russian Parliament’s sports committee Dmitry Svishchev. Calling the incident a “clear manifestation of nationalism,” he said that such actions should be punished.

“Sanctions need to be applied not only in relation to the sportsman [himself] but to Croatia’s Football Federation too,” Svishchev said.

The Croatian Football Federation (HNS) was quick to take action, sacking Vukojevic from his assistant coach position on the national team. The organization has also apologized to Russia.

“HNS apologizes to the Russian public for the actions of a member of the Croatian delegation. Ognjen Vukojevic and Domagoj Vida likewise apologize for their statements, which were in no way intended to have political connotations, but have unfortunately left room for such interpretations,” their statement reads.

READ MORE: Behind the Flashy Facade of Russia’s World Cup

FIFA, which has promised to study the incident, decided not to ban Vida from further participation in the World Cup, but have issued the footballer with a warning.

Croatian national team defender Domagoj Vuda (L) and Croatia’s assistant coach Ognjen Vukojevic. Photo credit: Facebook 

As a result of FIFA’s statement, thousands of 1-star reviews have emerged on FIFA’s Facebook page. According to BBC’s Ukrainian service, FIFA’s Facebook page has had around 153,000 negative reviews out of 265,000. Its average rating was 1.1 out of 5 stars. FIFA has since disabled reviews on their page.

Since the standoff, several media organizations like The Daily Mail and The Sun have published another video showing Vida chant “Glory to Ukraine” in Russian. According to these publications, FIFA is investigating the video material.

What Does “Glory to Ukraine” Mean and Where Did It Come From?

According to Ukrainian historian Volodymyr Vyatrovych, the phrase “Glory to Ukraine” was used as far back as the 1920s, Euromaidan Press news site reports.

It caught on during the 2013-2014 Euromaidan revolution in Kyiv and other cities, which united various sectors of Ukrainian society against former president Viktor Yanukovych who had since fled to Russia.

But since the Croatian incident, many foreign media organizations – including Britain’s The Independent and The Sun – have wrongly attributed the “Glory to Ukraine” slogan to Ukraine’s nationalists. This did not go unnoticed in Ukraine’s state bodies with the Ukrainian Embassy to the United Kingdom addressing the issue in a tweet on July 9.

“We would like to remind The Sun and The Independent that "Slava Ukraini" means "Glory to Ukraine"- a patriotic expression like "Viva la France," "Long live the Queen," "Let Poland be Poland". Will you call those who chant these phrases nationalists and boo them?” the Twitter post said.

The Ukrainian Football Federation (FFU) has also stated on July 10 that they are happy to reimburse Vukojevic’s fine.

“We, the FFU, have decided to reimburse Vukojevic’s fine, as well as offer him a position at FFU if he is able to take the opportunity,” said Andrii Pavelko, the head of FFU, in a comment to Ukrainian news site Ukrainska Pravda.

Pavelko also added that he does not see politics in the “Glory to Ukraine” slogan and is planning to raise this issue at the upcoming FIFA meeting in Zurich.

In addition to the reaction in Ukraine, a video made by Twitter user Maksym Savanevsky is going around the internet showing top world leaders such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite chant “Slava Ukraini” on different occasions.

Has FIFA Been That Strict in the Past?

This is far from the first time FIFA has reprimanded footballers for their behavior on and off the pitch.

Just throughout this World Cup, there have been a couple of incidents, including one involving another Croatian football player, goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. Subasic was cautioned after revealing a t-shirt honoring the memory of his friend underneath his team shirt during Croatia’s faceoff against Denmark on July 1.

Photo credit: EPA-EFE/FRIEDEMANN VOGEL 

While, on June 25, two Swiss players of Albanian origin were scolded by FIFA for making an eagle shape with their hands after victory over the Serbian team. The hand gesture was seen as political and a reference to the Albanian national flag. Serbia and Albania have had decades of tension, which turned deadly during the Balkan wars. The two nations are still in conflict over the disputed territory of Kosovo.

Croatia is to take on England in the semi-final on July 11. The winner will face either Belgium or France for the title of world champion.

/By Maria Romanenko