MOSCOW (Reuters) – Spectators at Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final in the Russian capital booed and whistled Croatia defender Domagoj Vida, who had spoken out in support of Russia’s neighbor and adversary Ukraine.
After Croatia’s quarter-final victory over Russia, a video was posted online showing Vida, a former player with Ukrainian club side Dynamo Kiev, saying “Glory to Ukraine!”
Russia’s relations with Ukraine have been fraught since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and backed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
World soccer’s governing body FIFA ruled that Vida’s comments were not in keeping with tournament rules about political neutrality.
The booing and whistles rang out each time Vida touched the ball in the semi-final against England, starting about 30 minutes into the first half.
It did not appear to be coming from sections of the stadium where England supporters were concentrated. There were significant numbers of Russians in the stadium.
FIFA hit Ognjen Vukojevic, a member of Croatia’s coaching staff who appeared in the video with Vida, with a 15,000-Swiss-franc (11,400 pounds) fine. Vukojevic was fired from his role with the national team.
Vida said his comments in the video were not intended to convey any political message.
But his reference to Ukraine angered Russian soccer fans and politicians. Some Russians said they had originally planned to support Croatia in the semi-finals after their own team were knocked out, but that they had changed their minds after learning of Vida’s remarks.
Reporting by Christian Lowe,; Editing by Ed Osmond