Jiří Hošek: UEFA’s ruling on Slavia-Rangers incident will leave bitter aftertaste among Czech fans

Ondřej Kúdela

The alleged racist remark made by Slavia Prague’s Ondřej Kúdela during a game with Glasgow Rangers has been hotly debated by fans and media pundits both in Czechia and in the UK. We asked journalist Jiří Hošek how he views the resulting UEFA rulling to hand over Ondřej Kúdela a 10 match ban.

Nearly a month after Slavia Prague beat Glasgow Rangers 2:0 in the second game of the Europa League last-16 knockout round, the incidents that took place during that match have not receded from the attention of fans and associated media coverage both in the UK and in the Czech Republic.

The reason is the extremely heated nature of the game, which saw a brutal foul on Slavia Prague’s goalkeeper, an alleged racist remark by one of the Slavia players, Ondřej Kúdela, on Rangers’ Glen Kamara and what seems to have been a subsequent lashing out by Glen Kamara on Kúdela after the match.

On Wednesday, UEFA issued a 10 match ban for Ondřej Kúdela for his alleged remarks, with Glen Kamara receiving a three match ban and his Rangers teammate, Kemar Roofe, receiving a four match ban for his foul on the Slavia Prague goalkeeper. The 10 match ban means that Kúdela will also miss the chance to represent the Czech national side at the upcoming Euro championship.

Jiří Hošek | Photo: Alžběta Švarcová,  Czech Radio

Jiří Hošek is the former Czech Radio correspondent in the UK and currently focused on sports. He has been covering the incident for several weeks. I asked him what it is that we actually know for certain happened during the game.

“What we can say is that there was a match played at the Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow. There was a kickoff and there was a last whistle. There were two goals scored by Slavia Prague. There were a number of yellow cards and two red cards shown. Both of them were fully justified. One of them for a brutal foul by Kemar Roofe on the Slavia goalkeeper who suffered a fractured skull.

“The whole atmosphere of the match was toxic. I have seen thousands of football matches in my professional career, but I have never seen a match played on such a high international level where one side was so malicious, and that side was Glasgow Rangers.

“The key event that we are talking about happened shortly before the final whistle. There was an incident on the pitch when Slavia Prague’s Ondřej Kúdela approached Glasgow’s Glen Kamara and whispered something in his ear. This immediately caused a very swift reaction. That is where I would stop because this is what we know happened.”

Rangers' Glen Kamara opens up about alleged racism from Slavia Prague's Oleg Kudela | ITV News

I understand that the incident was received very differently in the Czech Republic and in the UK. Could you tell us a bit about that?

“I can confirm that the coverage was fundamentally different in the UK and in the Czech Republic, in two ways. One big difference, which is hugely disappointing to me as far as the British media is concerned, was that the lack of respect shown by Glasgow Rangers players, the way they behaved on the pitch, was completely ignored with focus just being put on the alleged racist incident on the pitch.

“As far as the second difference is concerned, it is first necessary to make it clear that the topic of racism is absolutely abhorrent both in the Czech Republic and in the United Kingdom. It is a universal phenomenon that we should tackle in the most serious manner. However, there is a huge difference currently in British and Czech society, even in politics, in terms of how seriously this issue is seen.

We saw the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and this whole wave has reached the UK very strongly. It has had a huge impact on society. We have seen a number of demonstrations and it has become a political issue. This wave has not reached the Czech Republic. In the Czech Republic, compared to the UK, this topic is very soft, very mild on the issue. I would not say that the topic is downplayed here, but it is clearly not on the front burner, so to say.

“From this perspective I think the coverage in the Czech Republic focused on the toxic atmosphere which provoked this very silly step by Kúdela. The fact that he approached Kamara in a situation when his team was leading 2:0 was extremely stupid.

Furthermore, there is a major difference that Czech society and the Czech media insist on a presumption of innocence. On the contrary, the approach in the United Kingdom, not just on the football pitch but in general, is that when a victim reports racist abuse nowadays, it is generally believed that this actually happened. The perpetrator has to prove that it did not happen. This is not the universal approach in the Czech Republic and I think that this is the fundamental difference in approach between the two countries.”

You have been following the investigation after the game closely. Would you say that UEFA’s decision makes sense?

Jaroslav Tvrdík | Photo: Petr Šmerkl,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

“Knowing Czech mentality, I am afraid that the vast majority of fans will just stick to their ‘bubble'. They will think that this is a case of hidden racism towards Central and Eastern Europe and that this Czech player is actually a victim of racism displayed by the decision of the UEFA disciplinary board.

"They have a feeling that Kúdela received the 10 match ban without clear evidence and proof that he made a racist remark to Glen Kamara. It is very difficult to explain. I just do not believe that this incident and the way UEFA handled it will contribute to there being less racist abuse in Czech football, either on social media, the pitch or in interactions between fans as well as, for instance, Afro-Caribbean players on the pitch.”

On the other hand, you yourself wrote that the 10 match suspension is the lowest possible punishment UEFA could give for a racist incident.

"True. I fully agree. This was actually the lowest possible punishment if the perpetrator is found guilty. However, there is actually major concern that there is insufficient evidence. That is the problem.

"We can see, and the reactions clearly show it, that the Czech public thinks the punishment is too harsh, while the British public thinks it is rather mild and they were probably expecting Kúdela to get a six month or year-long ban. Again, we are not talking about the judicial system, but about rules that exist in a football organisation, a European football body. According to this specific paragraph I agree that the punishment is the mildest possible in this very paragraph which talks about racist abuse. But again, it is very unclear if there is enough evidence that this was a case of racist abuse by Ondřej Kúdela on Glen Kamara."

Slavia Prague Chairman Jaroslav Tvrdík has since issued a statement in which he accepts the UEFA decision. Meanwhile, Ondřej Kúdela wants to appeal the ruling. What do you make of Jaroslav Tvrdík’s reaction and that of Ondřej Kúdela himself to the UEFA decision?

“Concerning Ondřej Kúdela, and we know that the disciplinary proceedings were between Ondřej Kúdela as an individual and UEFA and not with Slavia Prague. Therefore it is up to him to challenge the ruling. It seems likely that he will do so, because it seems to him that he is innocent. He feels that he committed unsportsmanlike conduct and that is how he argued the case to the UEFA investigator.

“As far as the second question is concerned, this is an incredibly heated issue. I know that many Slavia fans are absolutely furious about the official approach and statement by Slavia Prague. I must say that I have huge understanding and sympathy for them because this must be very painful. Slavia said in advance that it will accept the decision. They said that they do not like it, they regret it, but that they accept it and want to move on. Jaroslav Tvrdík wrote explanatory remarks on social media today saying: ‘Look, if we look at the budget of Slavia Prague, we are dependent on money which we receive from UEFA and we want to do business with the Premier League.’ He actually mentions that 85 percent of the income of Slavia Prague comes from UEFA and the Premier League. I think that he would like to keep the fighting spirit.

“However, he also knows that there is a huge danger of the Slavia Prague brand being damaged internationally. He now wants to focus on the reduction of these harmful impacts on the good name of Slavia. That is the reason why the board of Slavia Prague wrote this statement. However, they will have to calculate that they will face a massive backlash. They already are facing it from the Slavia Prague fanbase, who feel that the management threw Ondřej Kúdela under a bus at this moment. I do not think that is true, because they also said that they will cover Kúdela’s legal costs in this struggle. It must be extremely painful, but, again, I must say that I fully understand the statement and fully support it. If I was in Jaroslav Tvrdík’s shoes, I would do the same.”