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Published: 7 august 2012 12:03

Milda Aleknonytė: Racist fans inflict greater damage on Lithuania than 2,500-pound fine

The warm spotlight on Lithuania after Rūta Meilutytė’s exceptional performance was darkened by intolerant basketball fans. Petras Leščinskas, a 36 year old accountant, also made it onto ABC, the Guardian and other well-known media outlets by raising his arm, while mimicking a “Hitler mustache” by placing his other hand over his lip as well as making “monkey-chanting” noises during the Lithuania-Nigeria basketball game.

Mr. Leščinskas was arrested during the game and brought before the UK court. There he stated that he believed his behavior was acceptable in Lithuania and admitted to doing those same actions at previous sports events. While it may be natural to perceive national team supporters as patriots, it was in fact the British Judge Sonia Sims, who stood up for Lithuania by stating that: “I do not accept that this is acceptable behavior in your country. That behavior I am sure is unacceptable to your fellow countrymen who no doubt want to distance themselves from your actions.” The defendant received a £2,500 fine for his, as the Judge put it, “despicable behavior.”

While officially admitting his actions and apologizing for his behavior in court (“I regret my actions, I am sorry” he said), the fan decided to tell Lithuanian media he had been misunderstood by local authorities. He is also thinking of appealing, according media reports. Some may call it moral perjury to apologize for one’s behavior in open court and change one’s position right afterwards. Based on Lithuanian media, it is easy to believe it was all a misunderstanding. Yet pictures say more than a thousand words. Openworld News published a picture of another Lithuanian fan making a similar gesture in a similar demeanor towards a group of black stewards just a few days before the conviction.

The Lithuanian Olympic Committee posted on their website that they were worried about why Mr. Leščinskas was not allowed to watch the next Lithuanian basketball game with France. Meanwhile, Lithuanian basketball officials have been warned to control racist behavior exhibited by their fans at Olympic matches, as they otherwise face sanctions. “If it happens it is going to have other consequences beyond the London Games. This is about respecting their opponents; it is about respecting the Games, the Olympic values” says Patrick Baumann, International Basketball Federation secretary general.

Amazing that a simple Google Search of the keywords: “Lithuanian racist” now brings back 890,000 hits, while Rūta Meilutytė has 778,000 results (checked on 6 August 2012). Lithuania, a small basketball-loving post-Soviet country, has been trying to put Soviet symbols in the same status as fascist symbols. Unfortunately, the country has been disgraced by narrow-minded basketball fans. No chance of being the gold winners of hearts now, even after a fantastic game with the USA – the damage to Lithuania’s honor, integrity, and image is far greater than 2,500 pounds.

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