'Ethnic cleansing' row boils up Down Under

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The Independent Online

Football in has traditionally been organised along ethnic lines, with clubs virtually belonging to tightly knit European immigrant communities. This has long been a cause for concern within the country's football governing body, which is aware that the sport is regarded as foreign and irrelevant by most native ns, who remain obsessed by rugby league or Aussie rules football.

Soccer , the national governing body, recently ordered clubs to remove all references to their European heritage, as part of a marketing plan for the sport. It told the 14 national league clubs to drop all symbols of European nationalism from logos, playing strips, flags and stadium names.

This has not gone down well with some of the clubs. Officials from Marconi, whose logo features the red, green and white of the Italian flag, have described the SA policy as a kind of "ethnic cleansing" and are refusing to play ball. So are Melbourne Knights (formerly Melbourne Croatia until SA ordered all clubs to drop their European names four years ago), and Sydney United. These three clubs face expulsion from the league next month unless they agree to toe the line - which at present seems unlikely. Hardly a healthy state of affairs, as the country starts planning the 2000 Olympic football tournament in Sydney.


Miron Cozma, the president of the Romanian First Division club Jiul Petrosani, is not a man to tangle with. Yesterday he was banned from football for two years and fined about pounds 3,000 for head-butting a Dinamo Bucharest player, Danut Lupu, during a skirmish outside the dressing-rooms after a match last Sunday. Lupu, incidentally, is almost a foot taller than Cozma.

Cozma is also awaiting trial for assault and criminal damage in a bar in his home town, Petrosan. A well-known miners' union leader, he is famous for his part in organising riots in Bucharest in 1990 and 1991 that helped to bring down the Romanian government.


None of this weekend's World Cup qualifiers will be more eagerly awaited than the one in Baku, where Azerbaijan entertain Norway. The former Soviet republic made their competitive debut in the qualifiers for Euro 96 but for security reasons were obliged to play their home games in Turkey.

Now Fifa is allowing them to play - in Baku's Tofik Bakhramov stadium, named in honour of a former head of the country's football federation. English football fans should remember Bakhramov, who died three years ago. He was the famous "Russian" linesman who saw nothing wrong with Geoff Hurst's second goal in the 1966 World Cup Final.


During Sunday's Brazilian League match between Sao Paulo and Santos, two players, Sao Paulo's Andre and Narciso of Santos, were substituted at half-time - not because of tactics or injuries but because they had to catch a plane to Russia, where the Brazilian national team are playing a friendly today. Imagine Alex Ferguson's reaction if that happened at Old Trafford ...