When political protests disrupted sporting events

Oct 15, 2014, 17:43 IST | AFP

After the Serbia-Albania football match was abandoned on Tuesday due to politcal protests, we look at other notable political incidents to have marred sport events

Paris: The history of sport has been marked by often deadly political protests and actions. After the Serbia-Albania football match was abandoned on Tuesday because of a drone carrying a pro-Albanian flag, here are other notable political incidents in sport:

A flag with Albanian national symbols attached to a remotely operated drone flies in the stadium during the EURO 2016 group I football match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade on Tuesday. Pic/AFP

December 1956. The Soviet Union v Hungary water polo clash at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics became known as the "Blood in the Water" match. Coming a few weeks after Soviet forces had helped put down an anti-communist uprising in Budapest, Hungarian players and fans taunted their Soviet counterparts and fists soon flew. The events inspired a documentary, "Freedom's Fury", and a movie "Children of Glory".

October 1968. US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved fists in the air in a 'Black Power' salute during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after coming first and third in the 200m at the Mexico Olympics on October 16. Both were at first ostracised by the US sporting establishment, but pursued sporting careers and have since been given awards honouring their work.

September 1972: Armed Palestinians took hostage nine Israeli athletes, coaches and officials in the Munich Olympic Games village on September 5. All of the Israelis were killed in an attempted rescue as they were taken to a jet waiting at Munich airport. Five of the militants were also killed in the worst tragedy to hit the Olympics.

December 1969: An anti-apartheid campaigner hijacked a bus carrying South Africa's all-white rugby team in London. Vice-captain Tommy Smith grabbed the driver who then crashed the bus in one of many high-profile protests that disrupted the Springbok tour. Some games were played behind barbed wire fences while there were pitch invasions at others. South Africa's 1970 cricket tour of England was cancelled.

May 1990: A riot between fans of Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia and Serbian club Red Star Belgrade played a key role in the run-up to the start of the 1991-95 war that led to Croatia's independence and Yugoslavia's break-up. The riot erupted just weeks after Croatian groups demanding independence had won the first multi-party elections. Sixty people were beaten, stabbed or injured with tear gas in the riot.

March 2009: Gunmen ambushed Sri Lanka's cricket team as their bus headed for the second day of a Test against Pakistan in Lahore. Six players were injured, six police and two civilians were killed. Pakistan-based Islamic militants were blamed.


Euro qualifier: Serbia-Albania match abandoned over drone chaos

A Euro 2016 qualifying match between Serbia and Albania was abandoned after a drone carrying a pro-Albanian message was flown over the stadium late Tuesday, sparking violent scenes on and off the pitch.

The match between the Balkan rivals was scoreless when it was stopped in the 41st minute after the drone trailing a "Greater Albania" flag flew over the Partizan Stadium in Belgrade and was brought down by a Serbia player.

Serbia goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic (L) punches an Albanian player
Serbia goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic (L) punches an Albanian player on Tuesday after a UEFA Euro 2016 group I qualifying football match between Serbia and Albania was stopped in Belgrade. The match was abandoned after a drone carrying a pro-Albanian message was flown over the stadium, sparking violent scenes on and off the pitch. Pic/AFP

The incident triggered clashes between the two sets of players and a handful of the 20,000 Serbian spectators ran on to the pitch and tried to assault the Albanian team. Albanian fans had been banned from attending the match.

Serbia's captain, Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, said he was dismayed by the events. "In the name of my team I can say that we wanted to continue the match... but the Albanian players said they weren't in the physical or psychological state to continue," he said.

Serbia's interior ministry said the brother of Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama was arrested over the incident, accused of controlling the drone from his seat in the stadium's executive box. But the prime minister's brother, Olsi Rama, who later returned to Tirana with the Albanian team to a hero's welcome, said he had "nothing to do with the drone."

"I don't understand where this story came from," Rama said. "I was neither arrested nor detained. When the incident occurred the situation became chaotic, police were checking everyone.

"I showed them my US passport and my camera and all this lasted only a few minutes," Rama said.

Thousands of Albanian fans, as well as deputy prime minister Niko Peleshi and sports minister Lindita Nikolli, welcomed the squad home at Rinas airport.

The incident comes just days before Edi Rama is due to make the first visit by an Albanian premier to Serbia for 68 years. Rama's visit, set for next Wednesday, became possible after the normalisation of bilateral relations was sealed in an agreement brokered by the European Union in April 2013.


Relations between Tirana and Belgrade have been strained over the issue of the mainly ethnic Albanian former Serbian province of Kosovo and the Albanian minority in southern Serbia, who frequently demand more autonomy.

In Belgrade, some see Tirana's interest as part of a plan aimed at creating a "Greater Albania" that would unite Albanian communities in Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and southern Serbia.

Kosovo's independence, proclaimed in 2008, has been recognised by more than 100 countries, including the United States and most EU states.

The premature end to Tuesday's game was greeted with joy by nearly 5,000 Kosovar Albanians who gathered to watch on TV in the Kosovo capital Pristina, shouting "Greater Albania" and "victory".

Kosovo's formation was made possible by a bloody chain of events after the end of the Soviet era. The demise of the Soviet Union in 1990-91 created the conditions for the bloody wars that broke Yugoslavia apart into six multi-ethnic states, including Serbia. NATO carried out a 78-day bombing campaign which led to Serb troops pulling out of Kosovo in 1999 and brought an end to the Serbian government's repression of the ethnic Albanian population. Serbia says the NATO airstrikes killed 2,500 civilians, including 89 children, a figure contested by NATO.

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