Earlier today, as I was checking the scores with my morning coffee, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. A brief scan caught the name Simmonds and the words Czech League and without looking I knew that someone had done something stupid, and it was most certainly related to race.
Simmonds, a forward with the Philadelphia Flyers, recently signed to play with Liberec of the Czech Extraliga during the NHL lockout. Last night, on a trip to Chomutov (a small town of 50 000, with 13.2% unemployment), a group of fans greeted Simmonds with chants of opice, which is Czech for monkey.
Sadly, when I read the article, I wasn’t exactly surprised. I’ve been here nearly two years now and a couple of things are quite apparent – there is little discussion about race in this country, especially when it comes to what is and isn’t appropriate to say and do (and why), and sports fans tend to go for the jugular at all times during the match.
This country has the potential to be racist as hell when it comes to sports. Going way over the line at sporting events seems to be an ugly part of the culture. At most Sparta Prague matches, you will probably hear some anti-Semetic chants, and Czech football has had issues with racist fans in the past.
There are a whole load of reasons as to why this is, but it should be noted that this country is by far the least diverse place I’ve ever lived … And I’ve lived in Finland! There are small pockets of Vietnamese and Roma communities, but the Czech Republic is an insanely Caucasian environment. Even Prague, a cultural capital city, lacks variety.
When you have a situation like this, the cultural norms for what you can and cannot say when it comes to race simply don’t exist because they’re rarely brought up. There’s never anyone pointing out that it’s incredibly hateful to use the n-word in casual conversation, and replacing it with negro doesn’t really make it much better. No one grows up being told that showing up to a party in black face is not okay. These things aren’t addressed because they come up so rarely. A diverse culture doesn’t exist here, and ignorance and intolerance breed in such an environment. It’s no excuse, but it appears to be a reality in a lot of Central and Eastern Europe.
That’s why I wasn’t too surprised when, not just one dumbass, but a whole group of people started shouting opice.
By no means should this be construed as me trying to make excuses for these heinous actions, or in any way giving these assholes a pass. That kind of sheer douchebaggery is brutal and archaic. I’m simply noting that it wasn’t exactly shocking, based on what I’ve seen in the Czech Republic over the last two years.
At the same time, I wish to avoid painting all Czechs with this same brush. Obviously, a couple of jackasses at a hockey game in no way represents a nation (trust me). Though these problems certainly do exist here.
It’s a good thing the Mayor of Scarborough has a thick skin. I hope he lights up these turkeys with a hat trick the next time he’s in Chomutov.