Wendy Mayer contributed to this report.
A fourth man has been arrested in connection with the verbal and physical attack on three players of Belgrade’s Red Star Water Polo Club in Split, Croatia last week. The 22-year old was not named by police, but is being held on suspicion of connection on charges of robbery, causing serious bodily harm, and committing a hate crime. Police say the suspects are facing up to 12 years in jail if found guilty.
3 members of the Red Star Belgrade team, Dusan Vasic, Milos Maksimovic and Alesandro Kralj, were attacked at a cafe prior to a regional league A1 match against Mornar Split.
Kralj, a goalkeeper who said he feared he would be killed and leapt into the sea to “save myself”, still suffered a broken nose and a knife wound on his leg in the incident. The three detained men, and possibly two more suspects, are accused of using bats and other weapons to attack Kralj and the other team members.
“The only solution I had at the moment was to jump into the sea,” Kralj said. “The (Croatian) police also told me afterward that I did the right thing.”
Police said the incident began when the accused saw Krajl’s Red Star jersey under his track suit.
The match was cancelled and Red Star returned to Serbia without further incident. The Serbian government launched a formal protest against its Croatian neighbors, while Croatia “condemned the attack and called for swift legal action.”
Croatia and Serbia were at war in the 1990s and tensions have remained high between the countries in the years following.
The Serbian Water Polo Federation, meanwhile, says that it has unanimous support of its teams to boycott all matches in Split until the end of the current season, as well as sports arenas that are located less than 200km from Split, for security reasons.
“Unfortunately, this attack by the hooligans was motivated by ethnic hatred, which represents the worst possible form of violence,” the statement said. “By chance, fortunately for us all, this attack did not end with a tragic outcome. What encourages us is the statement of condemnation of all relevant parties in Croatia, both political bodies and sports bodies, as well as the quick reaction of the Croatian police. We sincerely believe that it will not only end there but that the perpetrators of this crime will be severely punished.”
After making the statement, the Croatian Water Polo Federation responded via letter saying that the position of a boycott is ‘unacceptable,’ and threatened to withdraw their teams from the league in the event of any such boycott. They also noted that the Split-Dalmatia Police Department ‘guaranteed’ the safety of all participants going forward. Serbia responded by proclaiming that their letter was not sent to the Croatia Water Polo Federation, but rather to the Board of Directors and Steering Committee of the league, and that Serbian clubs will await the position of the league’s Board of Directors on moving any matches from Split.