Rytis Kėvelaitis | The Lithuania Tribune
The supporters of Lithuanian national basketball team received serious allegations from Scotland Yard officers and FIBA for making racist gestures in the games against Nigeria and Argentina.
Throughout the first match in the Olympics with Argentina, Lithuanian fan was asked to sit down by the stewards in the Basketball Arena as the man’s group had been standing and chanting loudly, however, he saluted them with Nazi gesture by raising his right hand.
After the game the incident didn’t go unnoticed for British press and was mentioned as “sickening” in the pages of The Telegraph and The Daily Mail as well as set the intense mood between police officers and Lithuanian basketball fans for the forthcoming game against Nigeria. In addition, two anti-racism NGO’s, Show Racism the Red Card and Unite Against Fascism, representatives encouraged “the police to take action now” and treat such actions like a serious criminal offence.
The tension reached its peak during the Tuesday’s game with Nigeria, bronze medal winners of African Basketball Championship. Petras Leščinskas, 36 years old accountant from Vilnius, has been fined £2,500 by Stratford magistrates court after he was seen raising his arm several times while placing his other hand over his top lip to imitate Hitler’s moustache. Nevertheless, the fan’s group made “monkey-style noises when Nigerian players had the ball”, prosecutor Becky Owen told the court. Despite the later publicly expressed disagreement and disappointment with the unfair court decision, Petras Leščinskas had “regretted his actions and was deeply remorseful” in front of the court.
According to fellow fans, they practise the same chants and claps virtually everywhere, but have never received police treatment to it as “racially aggravated behaviour”. Basketball team supporter Tomas, who informed DELFI about the incident, said that “All of us equally could be arrested. All few hundred fans who have been in the Basketball Arena. But they have chosen a person who looked slightly different – with a wig, etc.”. Majority of Lithuania’s press tended to comprehend the incident as an improper obstacle to support national basketball team and goes along with fans position towards it.
Simon Rotherham, chief security officer of Basketball Arena told the Lithuanian press that staff wishes to explain fans that “some things are perceived differently in the Great Britain” and behave more reservedly. Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in London also informed the public after the incident about “zero tolerance” policy towards any possible racist act in Great Britain which is implemented throughout the Olympic Games strictly as possible.
Even though, International Basketball Federation (FIBA) informed that if fans behaviour wouldn’t change in the following games, Lithuanian basketball federation might face serious consequences beyond the Olympics.
“We are absolutely against any of this and we have indicated to the Lithuanian delegation that it would be better for them if they were to communicate with their fans”, – Patrick Baumann, secretary general of FIBA, said on Saturday.