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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    MON, 08 JUN 1998 18:13:56 GMT

    Sports as a War

    Warriors from Newspaper Columns

    AIM Ljubljana, May 31, 1998

    Are sports journalists truly the most illiterate kind in the Slovenian journalism? A brief discussion was initiated by this question raised by the Editor-in-Chief of the sensation-mongering tabloid "Slovenacke novosti" (The Slovenian News), Marjan Bauer. A right answer was not found, but during this discussion on the alleged illiteracy of the local sports journalists, more sensitive experts on the Slovenian journalism stated that it would have been truly better if some of their colleagues had never learned to write.

    True, at the times of the former state the Slovenian sports columnists did not become famous nor stood apart because of their sensationalistic or chauvinistic outbursts in their reporting. If you asked an average Slovenian patriot what were the reasons for such a behaviour, he would tell you that this was yet another proof of a different, non-Balkanic, "European" (as they would call it today) journalistic culture which was cultivated in Slovenia. However, it is equally true that because of the poorer quality of local clubs (in team sports in former Yugoslavia) the Slovenian public was more turned to itself. In other words, claims that "Slovenian (sports) journalists helped awaken the spirit of militant nationalism" is much less applicable to Slovenia than to Serbia and Croatia. But, times change. And the bad examples are sooner or later followed and copied.

    Asked why did the semifinal match of the European League between Celje-Pivara Lasko from Slovenia and the Croatian team Badel provoked a true outburst of national passions, Goran Obrez, Editor-in-Chief of the Ljubljana sports daily "Ekipa" (The Team) answered clearly. In any case, he himself was one of the participants in a tumultuous media prelude; Obrez therefore did not miss a chance to point out that "all means should be applied" in a game against competitors from Croatia. Especially the media, which the Croats are so good at abusing...

    The mentioned and similar rubble-rousing calls were accompanied by concrete acts which have created a veritable anti-Croatian psychosis in a part of the Slovenian sports public. Some of the titles in the "Ekipa" left the impression that this was a war conflict, not a sports game. On the day of the return game, this same paper carried on its front page a red lettered statement of a fieldball player from Celje, Ales Pajovic, in which he sent a message to the guests from Croatia that "the Slovenes will crash them". Below the title there was an editorial question "Will champgne or blood run in the 23rd round of the First Slovenian League?" Things might seem harmless enough, but only at first sight; because if all that the media wrote about the Fieldball League is taken into account, then such a title just before the derby could be even understood as a call to a lynch. For example, editor-in-chief himself wrote another article entitled "Cannons Should be Kept Ready Anyway" in which he wrote the following: "The first semifinal match of the European Fieldball League between Badel from Zagreb and Pivara Lasko is approaching and the media are keeping the temperature up".

    "Day after day the Zagreb team gave ample reason for starting a war, but the Celje denizens are trying to cool things down. And why? Don't they see that it cannot be; in other words they will have to get their cannons ready. All the more as compared to a Croatian representative a representative from Slovenia has both heavy artillery, as well as light cavalry..."

    And that was not all; in the quoted text Obrez added the following: "Despite all this, one thing should be remembered, although it might sound quite inappropriate: that at one time we were not afraid of the Serbian tanks so why should we now fear the Croatian infantry which has lost its best young snipers in some previous wars...". The explanation: in Obrez's comparison the fieldball players from Zagreb represent Croatian infantry. And there were other numerous associations to the war, both in the text of the "Ekipa" as well as in other papers. Isn't it too much when a paper publishes a report (from a European League match) under a lively title: "We shall Count the Dead on Saturday". Saturday was the date of the return game when Zagreb players were coming to Celje.

    Maybe the described incidents in the Slovenian sports journalism would not have attracted so much attention had the militant vocabulary been restricted only to the "Ekipa", the only Slovenian sports magazine, with a circulation of 7,000 copies. However, information that even the renown "Delo" from Ljubljana succumbed to the chauvinistic euphoria gives much reason for concern. It published an interview by Roko Sinkovec with the coach of the Zagreb fieldball team, Velimir Kljaic. The title speaks for itself: "The Zagreb Leader who Instead of a Battle Wants a Fieldball War". All the more so as nowhere in his interview did Kljaic mention any war. In addition, in the introduction to the interview the journalist reproached his collocutor for his "Balkanic overbearing behaviour" which was followed by a descriptive explanation of the term "Balkanic". And I quote: "Velimir Kljaic is a Croat, Croatia is geographically in the Balkans which means that it is entirely true that Kljaic is a Balkanite...".

    Sinkovec didn't stop there, but developed his thought further: "...we the Slovenes have many times asked ourselves how is that our reflective nature did not push us on the field a dozen miles to the south? The latest proof of the paper strength of the southerners is the media mumbo-jumbo of our neighbours, who have already took several sharp potshots at Celje...". And then followed the interview.

    Unfortunately,although the fieldball match served only as an example, it is certainly not an isolated incident. And how did it all end, at least as far as Badel and Pivara Lasko are concerned? Celje flatly lost the "duel", while a part of domestic public, like during the previous events at the Zagreb game, humiliated and insulted the guests. The media certainly have some credit for this. Finally, the Celje club distanced itself from the behaviour of its fans and their appalling remarks, which were addressed from the stands at the expense of the Croatian guests. The event totally got out of control so that in the end some journalists vented their rage, which they had directed against Zagreb before the game, on individuals in the Celje team. Thus the Ljubljana daily the "Dnevnik" (The Daily) carried a text in which it mercilessly took it out on the hosts already in its title: "There is no Excuse for the Disgrace". The journalist Joze Okorn quickly found whom to blame for the failure: "Zagreb is a true team, with only one foreigner, while the Celje team is a collection of Serbs, Croats and - Slovenes...".

    Where is the solution? Would it be better for the reputation of some sports journalists if sports teams from the territory of former Yugoslavia did not meet at all for some time? How should journalists on both sides get rid of their unconscious role of puppets and marginal rabble-rousers who are prepared (in the concrete Slovenian - Croatian example) to instigate a true war (for the sake of several square miles of sea and land and decades-long unexperienced conflicts)? How should editors and directors of media houses be convinced that in these parts of Europe chauvinism is not the only content that can persuade a reader to buy a paper?

    Actually, the solution is quite simple: sports columnists should (finally) start reporting about sports in the first place. In that way fieldball and other games will remain what they really are - sports events.

    Igor E. Bergant

    (AIM Ljubljana)