Croatia urges UEFA not to ban soccer team over on-field swastika
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Croatia urges UEFA not to ban soccer team over on-field swastika

Prime Minister Milanovic says ‘draconian sanction’ would ‘destroy the squad’ and leave a ‘deep scar’

In this Friday, June 12, 2015 file photo, a big Nazi Swastika symbol is implanted on a grass pitch at a European soccer championship qualification game between Croatia and Italy, in Split, Croatia. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic, File)
In this Friday, June 12, 2015 file photo, a big Nazi Swastika symbol is implanted on a grass pitch at a European soccer championship qualification game between Croatia and Italy, in Split, Croatia. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic, File)

Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic on Wednesday pleaded with UEFA not to expel his country from the European Championships because of a swastika scrawled on the pitch during a game last month.

Milanovic wrote to UEFA president Michel Platini saying he was “worried over the fate of the Croatia squad from disciplinary proceedings which resulted from a ‘sad incident.'”

UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings for racism against the Croatian Football [soccer] Federation (HNS) over a swastika drawn on the pitch used for Croatia’s 1-1 draw with Italy in a Euro 2016 qualifier on June 12.

The European body is to announce its action on July 16 and Croatians fear an international ban. The team leads qualifying Group H ahead of Italy.

“I appeal you not to let the Euro 2016 go ahead without the participation of all the best squads,” said the prime minister.

Milanovic said a “draconian sanction” would “destroy the squad, leave a deep scar on Croatia’s fans and harm football [soccer] in Croatia in the long term.”

Police have filed charges against the HNS and two officials for negligence. The perpetrators have not been identified.

UEFA had already ordered the Croatia-Italy match to be played behind closed doors as a punishment for fan violence and racist incidents during an earlier match between Croatia and Norway.

The HNS has publicly apologized for the swastika, which it labeled an “act of sabotage.”

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