(I’m taking this opportunity to apologize for the lack of activity on the blog this week. I was on holidays, but I’m back on track now, so you’ll get some more articles coming your way).
Chechnya and its president Ramzan Kadyrov rarely get the major media exposure that other nations do; a small region with a population of around 1.3 million inhabitants that has no gain or fame for Western nations doesn’t sound too intriguing one might say. Engulfed with controversy and violence, Chechnya could easily be publicized by the media as one of the world’s “dangerous and evil” places, but it isn’t. Kadyrov the president, however, is considered to be one of the world’s most powerful political figures and has often been accused of torture, murder, kidnapping, rape and other inhumane acts (almost in the same breath as Idi Amin, the former president of Uganda). This is a man who has publicly approved and supported honor killings and has been at the center of controversy ever since he became the president of the tiny region of Chechnya. However, this week he pulled off a major coup for the 2nd time in the past 2 months that also should have gotten more publicity.
On Wednesday night in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, an event took place: the inauguration of Terek Grozny, the new 30,000 all-seated stadium. A moment to celebrate for Chechen people, especially as this stadium could host a couple of games during the World Cup in 2018 that will be hosted by Russia. But the inauguration of the stadium wasn’t the real spectacle, the game which it hosted was. A World XI faced Kadyrov’s XI (Team Caucasus), and the game featured a load of international stars that have all retired but are considered to be legends of International Football: Diego Maradona (captaining the World XI), Fabien Barthez, Dida, Franco Baresi, Alain Boghossian, Ivan Zamorano, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Luis Figo, Alessandro Costacurta, Jean-Pierre Papin and Christian Vieri, are just a number of the names that were on show to the delight of Chechens at the stadium.
However, this game opened up a debate: should these ex-players (who are all rich by the way) go all the way to Chechnya to participate in such a game, and more importantly, for such a controversial character? Whenever any of the players were posed questions for the game about the political implications behind such a game, they mostly answered “we’re just here to play Football”. But at what point does playing Football inflict with the reasons behind a game. This match was not organized for charity or any noble cause, but rather it is being viewed as a PR stunt to boost the popularity of man who is viewed by most political followers as a “criminal” (this is left for another debate which has nothing to do with Football). Of course, the opening a new stadium is something to celebrate, but the reason the match’s objective is debatable is because it is not the first time Kadyrov organizes such a game.
In March earlier this year, Chechnya was host to another game similar to this one but on that occasion it was Kadyrov’s friends vs Brazilian World Cup winning legends; Cafu, Romario, Rai, Bebeto and Dunga travelled half way across the world for a meaningless match. It was once again a PR stunt, however in this case, it wasn’t for any inauguration or celebration. Nobody knows where the money that such a match generated went to. Romario, who participated in that match, publicly claimed that he did it for the money because he was offered a large sum to go all the way there and participate in that match. Rai, the former PSG Braizilian midfielder, went on to publicly state that he regrets having played in such a game because of the political implications that were whispered behind the scenes of the game.
Whatever the reason behind these matches, debates are going to occur regarding what were the actual incentives for the players who made the journey all the way there and also regarding why were such games organized, in particular the one featuring the Brazilian stars. Of course for the Chechen people it must have been a once (now twice) in a lifetime event to see such stars in front of them, but the integrity of these former footballers must be questioned knowing that they are going to play alongside, and facing, the controversial President of Chechnya himself who has been linked with numerous immoral acts. To end on a positive note, during the game, one could notice that a footballer, regardless of his age, weight or current social status, will never change on the field; Diego Maradona is still the two-faced legend that Football fans around the world still love (click here). Genius.
(click here for a match report from www.101greatgoals.com)