Russia-Turkey tensions sport fails to stay out of politics.Getty Images
The Russian sports authorities’ reaction to the sudden deterioration in relations between Moscow and Ankara was instantaneous. As early as Nov. 25, the day after the Russian plane was shot down by the Turkish air force along the Syrian border, the Russian Football Union advised clubs to refrain from having their winter training in Turkey.
Although the move required an urgent change of plan (Russian clubs have their winter training in January-February), most teams expressed their readiness to follow the Russian Football Union’s recommendation. The list of alternative destinations includes Cyprus, Israel, Spain, Qatar and even Crimea. The only team that said it did not intend to follow the travel advice was Moscow-based Lokomotiv: Its president Olga Smorodskaya stressed that the club would have its winter training in Turkey, no matter what.
Later it transpired that Russian professional sport clubs will not be able to hire Turkish athletes. In an interview with the R-Sport news agency, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that these sanctions would not affect Turkish nationals who already have valid contracts in Russia. The best-known Turkish athlete working in Russia is footballer Gekdeniz Karadeniz, who plays for the Kazan-based club Rubin. Last summer, the 35-year-old player signed a new contract with the club, until 2018.
Tensions in Russian-Turkish relations have also affected the UEFA Champions League. On Nov. 27, the mayor of the Belgian city of Ghent, Daniel Termont, announced that for security reasons, fans of the St. Petersburg club Zenit will be banned from attending the Dec. 9 game with the local team K. A. A. Gent. Termont explained the move by the presence of a large Turkish diaspora in the city.
For its part, the Russian side insists that the game be held either in a neutral location or behind closed doors, Sports Minister Mutko told the TASS news agency, adding that he had outlined this position to the UEFA leadership as well. Under UEFA rules, 10 percent of tickets are allotted to the away team.
On Nov. 30, it was announced that Russian football fans will be able to visit the Champions League match in Ghent.
Russian volleyball teams have had to adjust their plans too. The clubs Belogorie and Dinamo have decided not to go to Turkey for Champions League games with local teams Arkas and Ziraat Bankasi, which were set for early December. Alexander Yaremenko from the Russian Volleyball Federation attributed the decision to “an instruction from above.”
The Russian clubs may be punished for a no-show with a forfeit and a fine. At the same time, the Turkish club Halkbank has confirmed that it will be taking part in an away game against Kazan’s Zenit on Dec. 2.
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