Roma Decin football club in the Czech Republic has won six of its opening ten matches of the season, climbing to fourth in the table as the league rests for the winter break.
However, the team's success is bittersweet as five of their six victories have been because their opponents won't turn up to play against them, preferring instead to take a 3-0 forfeit loss and a fine of $70.
For the Roma players, they see the succession of forfeits as highlighting the continuing discrimination they face in the Czech Republic. They argue that the trials of club Decin show that the racism the Roma people incur is not restricted to areas such as employment and education but sport as well.
Of the five games that Roma Decin have actually played, they lost the first four until a victory in a penalty shootout with Dolni Habartice saw them claim their first "real" win of the season. Roma Decin play in the lowest official football league in the Czech Republic.
Roma Decin coach Pavel Horvath said, "I will not change my opinion. I can’t change my opinion. The clubs themselves know why they don’t want to play us. I will not comment any further. My opinion and only opinion is it is because we are Roma and that is my opinion."
Activist Radek Drahomir Horvwath wrote an open letter to Czech Republic President Milos Zeman: "I don't understand why clear racism is becoming part of the game. I was not able to explain that to my daughter and son. Why do my children and I have to be confronted with such an unbelievable insult to our dignity?"
However, Josef Kucera, the coach for Rybniste, said that racism was not the reason they refused to play with Roma Decin.
"It has nothing to do with racism. We had a bad experience with them and that's why we don't want to play them," Kucera said.
Rybniste and the other teams argue that a 2011 post-match fight involving Roma players is the reason why they are staying clear of playing the club.
The fight, which occurred after a match between FC Decin and Loko Decin, saw a Roma player punch a referee after being sent off and the fight spilled out into the locker room.
FC Decin was fined $1,260 but they failed to pay and consequently the club was dissolved. FC Decin returned to the league this year under new name Roma Decin.
The Czech football federation said an investigation had shown that racism was not at play and that clubs had indeed complained about rowdiness from the Roma Decin fans. Roma Decin have reportedly agreed to increase security at home matches.
In September, diplomats from the embassies of Scandinavian and Baltic countries, as well as Britain and the USA, created a team to play against Roma Decin, with their shirts displaying the message, "We show the red card to racism".
Additional reporting by Associated Press.Reuse content