ZAGREB, Croatia – According to the Associated Press, three individuals that are being held in connection with an attack on three Serbian water polo players from Red Star Belgrade will face hate crime charges.
Ahead of a regional league A1 match between Mornar Split (of Croatia) and Red Star Belgrade (of Serbia), an attack on Red Star players Dusan Vasic, Milos Maksimovic and Alesandro Kralj occurred at a seaside café.
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.”
A guilty verdict carries up a penalty of up to 12 years jail time.
Croatia and Serbia were at war in the 1990s and tensions have remained high between the countries in the years following.
The city of Split is set to play host to the 2022 LEN European Water Polo Championships.
LEN, the governing body for European water polo, released a statement on the incident, saying that even though the event was not LEN-sanctioned, they felt it was important to underline the importance of preventing future such incidents, especially with Croatia hosting an upcoming European Championship.
“European Aquatics have always shared the values of mutual understanding and acceptance of the respective nations” LEN President Paolo Barelli said. “Sport is uniting and not dividing, athletes and teams can be rivals but never enemies. LEN is committed to apply these principles and expect to be appreciated by everyone, every time, everywhere.”