Polish club Legia under fire over 'Jihad' banner

WARSAW - Anti-racism groups on Friday called on European football's governing body UEFA to punish Polish club Legia Warsaw after fans brandished a "Jihad" banner during a Europa League match against Israeli side Hapoel Tel Aviv.

"This is yet another case of anti-Semitic behaviour by extremist groups active in Polish football stadiums, and it could have been predicted," Rafal Pankowski of the campaign group Never Again told AFP.

At the start of Thursday night's Group C home game in Warsaw - which Legia won 3-2 - a group of fans unfurled a huge banner stretching across three blocks of a stand.

Written in Arabic-style letters, it read "Jihad Legia". The banner was green, which is one of Legia's colours but also that of Islamist groups.

"Some Legia fans have been known for anti-Semitic and extreme-right behaviour for years and they had a chance to express their hatred of Jews again when Legia played an Israeli team, this time adopting a pseudo-Islamist guise," added Pankowski, who runs the UEFA-backed Football Against Racism in Europe network.

Miroslaw Starczewski, deputy head of security at Poland's PZPN football association, said Legia could be hit hard by UEFA.

"Legia should pay the price for this," Starczewski told the daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

"A fine is the most likely penalty. And UEFA may even ban Legia fans from the second leg in Tel Aviv."

Legia's away game in the Israeli city is scheduled for December 15.

Under its disciplinary rules, UEFA could levy a fine of up to a million euros (S$1.8 million).

The club's spokesman Michal Kocieba said Legia were investigating.

"We certainly didn't approve the display of this banner," he said.

Stadium racism and hooliganism are in sharp focus in Poland ahead of the 2012 European Championships, which the country will host along with neighbouring Ukraine.

"It can be expected that UEFA will take this case seriously, in light of its efforts to tackle racism and anti-Semitism in Euro 2012 host countries," said Pankowski.

Far-right and anti-Semitic banners and slogans are notably shocking given the region's World War II history, when millions perished at the hands of occupying Nazi Germany, including the overwhelming majority of its Jews.