Serbia supporters displayed fascist slogans and aimed racist chants towards ethnic Albanians during their side’s match against Switzerland on Friday night, according to an eyewitness account given to the Observer.
The scenes at Stadium 974 in Doha, where Switzerland won 3-2 to secure a last-16 place in a match that spilled over during the second half, raise questions about Fifa’s stewardship and in particular its apparent tolerance of offensive insignia. Hasan Rrahmani arrived at the match wearing an Albanian flag around his neck but says he had it confiscated at the entrance while derogatory nationalist symbols were allowed through. He says he was shown a WhatsApp message that Fifa had sent to security staff containing pictures of items, pictures and phrases that were not allowed.
“I was completely dumbfounded to see the number of fascist slogans, T-shirts and flags,” Rrahmani said. He has shown the Observer photographic evidence of a supporter wearing a green hat closely associated with atrocities committed in the Kosovan and Bosnian wars, and says the man was part of a group in the same attire. Among other items of clothing worn freely around the stadium, he says, were T-shirts reading “From Serbia to Tokyo”, a nationalist slogan employed by Serbian football fans invoked during the wars of the 90s. Rrahmani says the police were not interested in complaints related to the items, or to three-fingered gestures considered offensive in many contexts.
Fifa may find the supporters’ chants more straightforward to deal with, having issued a public address message in the 77th minute asking for “discriminatory chants and gestures” to cease. Rrahmani says those were audible from an early stage of the evening. “I was shocked at the vitriol, absolutely dumbfounded,” he says. “They were singing the most vile racist chants.”
Among those he says he heard were songs involving the word “Šiptar”, a well-known derogatory term used against Albanians, and a call-and-response routine of “Kill, kill, kill the Albanians”. Fans also sang “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia”, related to their country’s refusal to recognize Kosovan independence, he says. “It would start in one corner and the rest of the fans would pick it up,” Rrahmani said. Such songs are not unfamiliar at matches where tensions between Serbia and Albania have ignited, including the infamous “drone” game in October 2014 when a Euro 2016 qualifier in Belgrade spiraled into chaos.
Rrahmani describes retrieving his flag from a collection point after the game, and also seeing Serbs being handed back some confiscated items. He describes being set upon by “seven or eight” Serbian supporters upon exiting the stadium area. “They shoved me, saying: ‘Go fuck yourself Šiptar,'” he said. “They threw water at me. I tried to walk away but seven or eight big blokes followed me. In the end I ran towards the police, who didn’t do anything. Everything that happened around the evening was just frightening. What I expected to be a good night rekindled all those memories of the past that I thought had gone.” He says the police were polite and reassuring but let the group walk away.
Serbia is already under investigation by Fifa for displaying a flag showing Kosovo as part of their territory, along with the words “We do not surrender”, in their dressing room before facing Brazil last week. Rrahmani says similar flags were visible inside the ground.
“Fifa’s inconsistency shocks me,” he says. “How on earth, in 2022, can you allow fans in a World Cup stadium to shout about killing another nation? I came away feeling marginalized and not welcomed by Fifa.”
Rrahmani emphasizes that this was an anomaly in an otherwise enjoyable experience at World Cup stadiums. He was born in Kosovo and lives in London; he has been following England and Wales in Qatar but attended Friday’s match to support Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, Switzerland players who have Kosovan roots. Their goal celebrations in the same fixture at Russia 2018, forming Albanian “eagle” symbols with their hands, caused controversy and set much of the context for the second-half scenes in Doha.
Xhaka could face investigation for grabbing his genitals in front of the Serbian bench and other figures from both camps may fear censure. An Albanian fan was seen being escorted from the stadium during the second half after making the eagle gesture.
Fifa declined to comment on the prospects of disciplinary action or on the issues described by Rrahmani.