Jiří Hošek: Kamara was booed because he is hugely unpopular in Czechia, not because he is black

Glen Kamara

Last Thursday’s Europa League game between Glasgow Rangers and Sparta Prague on Letná Stadium ended in fresh accusations of racism –this time from 10,000 Czech schoolchildren - and a diplomatic spat between the two countries. The Czech foreign minister summoned the British ambassador to Prague to protest against insults in the British press directed against Czech schoolchildren, while Rangers is pushing UEFA to take a tougher stance on what it calls “a war on racism”. I spoke to sports journalist Jiří Hošek about the escalation in tensions and began by asking him to explain the reason why the stadium was full of child spectators.  

“Well, Sparta was found guilty of racism in an incident which occurred in a previous game between Sparta and the French side AS Monaco and it was given a one match ban in European competitions. This meant that the game against Rangers was to have been played in an empty stadium but Sparta got an exemption allowing it to invite 10,000 schoolchildren between the ages of 7 and 14 years to attend the game.”

Rangers now says the audience of schoolchildren was openly racist. Would you agree with that?

“I strongly disagree.  I really do not know how you can say that booing at any football player can be labelled as racism, when booing has been used for decades, not only in the Czech Republic, but elsewhere in the world, including the UK, to show your dislike of a club or of any individual player. So, in my opinion, it had nothing to do with racism at all.”

They claim the children booed Kamara whenever he touched the ball, on the other hand, other Czech commentators have said he was booed because he is unpopular over past incidents. Would you agree with that?

Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

“That’s absolutely true. They gave him a really tough time. They did boo Kamara every time he touched the ball, that’s correct. But they booed him because he is immensely unpopular, as the Rangers Club is immensely unpopular and as its coach Stevie Gerrard is immensely unpopular. And that dates back to this infamous match at Ibrox between Rangers and Slavia Prague where the alleged racist incident between Slavia Prague and Rangers –the incident between Ondrej Kudela and Glen Kamara – took place. The point is, there is immense difference in the interpretation of the incident and its aftermath, here in the Czech Republic and in Scotland.

“Roughly 80 percent of the Czech public, and among football fans the figure is even higher, is convinced that Kudela did not commit what he was supposed to commit, that he did not direct a racist insult to Glen Kamara.  People believe that there is not enough robust evidence to prove it, and that when it comes to the sports arbitration now, that Kudela may actually be cleared of committing this racist attack. And the knowledge about it in Scotland or the United Kingdom is close to zero.

“So when the public – whether it is adults or children – starts booing at Kamara (and when we are talking about a different club because Rangers played Sparta, they did not play Slavia) their [Rangers] interpretation is that it is racism –you are booing at a black player. But actually the kids were booing at Glen Kamara and they were even booing at other Rangers players including Kemar Roofe who was the perpetrator of a brutal foul on Slavia’s goalkeeper –and he is not black. So this has to do with Rangers being extremely unpopular nowadays among the Czech football public.”

If we look at the reactions in the British media and on social networks to this latest incident involving Czech schoolchildren – do you think they were over the top?

Sparta Prague - Glasgow Rangers | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

“I think it was absolutely exaggerated and lacking any critical context. I was hugely disappointed with the standard of journalism which some of the British media, including the BBC and ITV, have shown. I think there was even some racist context and generalization – it was not just children in the stands, they were talking in general about the Czech Republic, about Czech fans, they were putting it in the perspective of racist incidents that occurred in Hungary or Bulgaria when England was playing there. So it created the impression that we are a bunch of racists from Eastern and Central Europe, and that the Czechs, Hungarians and Bulgarians are all the same –and that is something I find despicable.”

This latest incident has further escalated tensions. Sparta has asked Rangers to “halt the atmosphere of xenophobia”, Rangers is calling on UEFA to be more proactive in what it says is “a war on racism”. How do you see UEFA’s stand in this matter?

“I think UEFA is under a lot of pressure, not only related to this latest incident, to take racism more seriously. I think it will really be interesting to see the aftermath, because Rangers would like UEFA to deal with what happened on Thursday night, but, at the same time, it seems that the delegate of UEFA and the referee did not come to the conclusion that there was anything racist about the match played between Sparta and Rangers. So it is not yet clear whether UEFA will actually launch an investigation. But, the bigger context of course is, that when we in the Czech Republic defend Czech clubs and Czech players, we have to bear in mind that racism is a universal problem and we have a lot of homework to do on the field of tackling racism in Czech society and Czech football. So the problem also is that when we do defend our players and our clubs it may feel like we are looking to make excuses for racism, which of course would be very wrong.”