Water Polo Coach Mirko Vicevic Leaves Serbian Club after Fans’ Racist Banner

Mirko Vicevic at Akademija Cattaro Photo Courtesy: Mirko Vicevic

Water Polo Coach Mirko Vicevic Leaves Serbian Club after Fans’ Racist Banner

Water polo coach Mirko Vicevic last week left Serbian club Red Star Belgrade after fans displayed a racist banner insulting several ethnic groups at a match.

Vicevic had taken over Red Star, based in the Serbian capital, last month. At a Feb. 5 game against VK Sabac, Vicevic’s sixth in charge, fans displayed a banner insulting Albanians, Croats and Bosnians, all members of different populations of what once was a united Yugoslavia, using racial slurs to state that those groups “are not my brothers.” They also chanted the name of convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian Serb Army officer convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity for his actions during the Bosnian War from 1992-95. (Video of the incident is included here.)

Vicevic won a gold medal for Yugoslavia at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. He was born in what is now Montenegro and is Croat. The banner accompanied fans venting rage on their official website at what they portrayed as an outsider taking over the club, with explicit ethnic overtones. Media outlets have used the term “chauvinistic” to characterize the nature of the attack, which constitutes a major scandal in one of the country’s most popular sports.

Vicevic is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022.

The match was not halted. The banner was reportedly created by Delije, a notorious fan group of Red Star’s teams across various sports. The line between sports ultras fan group and paramilitary force has occasionally blurred through the years.

Reports out of the country indicate that Vicevic stepped down by mutual consent with the club. The move was made official on Feb. 9. He was hired on Jan. 20.

The incident has been widely condemned within Serbia. The water polo federations of both Serbia and Montenegro and the Montenegrin Olympic Committee have spoken out against the fan behavior. The Water Polo Association of Serbia has promised to initiative disciplinary procedures against fans, and the Belgrade Higher Prosecutor’s Office is looking into it. (After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro competed internationally as a combined entity from 2003-05; Serbia competed separately for the first time at the 2007 World Championship, Montenegro joining in 2009.)

Red Star Belgrade’s club director Igor Milojevic said the club “bears the greatest responsibility” for the actions of its fans and publicly apologized to Vicevic. That statement, however, stopped short of a formal condemnation of fans, instead lauding those who didn’t take part leaving the stands in protest of the banner. Players including Danilo Ikodinovic have sharply criticized the fan behavior.