Tonight’s Serbian cup final lasted only 14 minutes and was played in an empty gym. Red Star Belgrade beat city rival Partizan 78-69, and won the cup for the first time since 2006. With only one second left on the clock Partizan coach Dusko Vujosevic took a time-out. By Red Star this was seen as another provocation.
It was a continuation of the game that was stopped last night in the third quarter because of chaos in the gym, caused by the fans of both teams.
Due to the new Euro league qualification criteria, winning the Serbian cup has absolutely no meaning anymore. Qualifying for the Euroleague is only possible via the Adriatic league. No “points” can be won by winning the domestic cup.
Then, there was the rule of the Serbian Basketball Federation that only allowed a maximum of four foreigners per team in domestic competition. That meant that the three strongest Serbian teams, Partizan, Red Star and Radnicki played in the cup with an incomplete team.
As if that wasn’t enough, Partizan’s American power forward Drew Gordon got injured yesterday and was unable to play in tonight’s ultra-short game.
In the meantime, a re-construction of yesterday’s events shows that the violence in Kragujevac was not a spontaneous eruption of violence, but that there was an actual spark that caused all the problems. All parties also agree about what that spark was. It was two Red Star fans who were in the section of Partizan fans. From here on, there are three different versions of the story:
The police version: Two Red Star fans somehow found themselves in the Partizan section and were beaten, while their Red Star shirts were set on fire. The fans in the Red Star section saw this happening and tried to storm the Partizan section.
The version of the Partizan fans: The two Red Star fans deliberately went to the Partizan section to provoke and agitate. Their intention was to cause chaos and then put the blame on the Partizan fans. What were they doing in the Partizan section anyway? When one of them tried to burn a Partizan flag, he got the whooping he deserved. The Partizan fans also accuse the riot police of Kragujevac of being biased by putting the blame on the Partizan fans. They even suggested that the chief of police was a Red Star fan and published an old picture of him online in a Red Star T-shirt.
The Red Star version: The two Red Star fans were “kidnapped” by Partizan fans and dragged to their section of the gym where they were being lynched. They had to be rescued and that is why Red Star fans stormed on to the court and tried to reach the Partizan section.
On the official website of Red Star the club also blamed the Serbian Basketball Federation for “not preventing what everybody knew would happen, because Partizan’s President Predrag Danilovic had already announced it in advance!”. Furthermore, on the website there was a personal attack on Partizan head coach Dusko Vujosevic for his role in the incidents with Nebojsa Covic, the Vice President of Red Star.
Dragan Djilas, the President of the Serbian Basketball Federation had the following to say:
“Dusko Vujosevic and Nebojsa Covic are on bad terms with each other. That is clear. Their verbal war in the media has been going on for a while and it crosses over to the fans as well. After a 45 minute break it looked like we could have resumed the game. At that moment coach Vujosevic should have been with his team concentrating on the warming up, instead of exchanging profanities with Nebojsa Covic and going towards him and the Red Star fans behind him. The situation became tense again and we had to stop the game. It is what it is.”
The media has also criticized the police and local cup organizers for allowing too many spectators into the gym. Some estimates say that the gym was overcrowded by at least 1.000 fans.
Why didn’t the riot police throw out the fans and arrest them? A police spokes persons said that any attempt to do so would most definitively have caused and unprecedented bloodshed. It would have been a situation in which thousands would have been involved and everybody would have fought everybody. There were police camera’s in the gym filming the fans. The police intends to make arrests after they have studied the footage.
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t end here. On the contrary. It may only be the beginning of something much bigger and even more horrifying. Next Sunday Red Star plays at home against Partizan in the Adriatic league! They are currently in 2nd and 3rd place. The game could decide who will qualify for the Final Four of the Adriatic league, and indirectly also the participation in the Europealgue next season. With so much tension and so much at stake, there are more and more people voicing their concern over this high-risk game. Ironically enough, the Croat Josip Bilic is the one who will decide what happens with this game. He is the commissioner of the Adriatic league.
He will have to decide on more than only that game coming Sunday. Sooner or later the location of the Final Four of the Adriatic league must also be announced. Rumors have been indicating for weeks that the Final Four would be held in the Serbian capital Belgrade. A logical choice if three of the four participants would come from Serbia. As it looks now, it is very well possible that Red Star, Partizan and Radnicki may qualify together with Igokea from the Serbian part of Bosnia. However, the mayor of Belgrade already stated weeks ago that he does not want the event to be held in Belgrade. Interestingly enough, Mayor Dragan Djilas is also the above mentioned President of the Serbian Basketball Federation! He was present during the Serbian Cup in Kragujevac and personally intervened when Partizan coach Vujosevic and Red Star Vice President Nebojsa Covic stared each other down.