Putin, Putin, la-la-la

The top authority of European football is upset that fans of Turkey’s Fenerbahce club dared chant Russian President Vladimir Putin’s name during their team’s home match against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv.

That particular Champions League qualifying match happened in Istanbul. Dynamo midfielder Vitaly Buyalsky scored to put the Ukrainians ahead. His celebrations included gestures and sounds that even the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) acknowledged looked and sounded as a well-calculated provocation.

Fenerbahce’s fans, known as one of the most volatile supporters’ groups in football (so-called association type, a.k.a. soccer) this side of British Isles expressed their disenchantment by singing Putin, Putin, la-la-la.

And that upset the powers-that-be.

“A UEFA Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector will conduct a disciplinary investigation regarding alleged misbehaviour of Fenerbahce supporters during the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League second qualifying round, second leg match between Fenerbahce SK and FC Dynamo Kyiv played on 27 July 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey,” the UEFA announced with a seriousness deserving of more serious matters.

Indicating that the matter will receive UEFA’s most serious consideration, and that such consideration may take some time, the European football poohbahs concluded that whatever further information and decision on the matter there can become decided upon “will be made available in due course.”

The statement didn’t mention the chants specifically. It only said that Fenerbahce fans’ behaviour was unbecoming.

What now?

It’s going to be up to UEFA’s top dogs to mete the punishment they feel is proper, and the entire process may take some time. What if Fenerbahce do not like what the UEFA felt correct? Appeals galore, all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and who knows where else. After all, the Court’s main office sits in Lausanne and the UEFA headquarters can be found in Basel.

These two Swiss cities are just about 200 kilometres removed from one another. Travelling by car, using those splendid Swiss freeways, it’s a matter of less than two hours’ worth of a comfortable and safe drive.

While their potential punishment is unknown, an extreme outcome would be that Fenerbahce’s next opponents, Slovácko, would get a bye to the Europa League in their upcoming third-round qualifying tie for the competition on Thursday, August 4. The other option: the Turks may be forced to play the first leg at home against the Czech club behind closed doors.

Nobody has yet got an answer from 1. FC Slovácko which option they would prefer.

The Czech football club is based in Uherské Hradiště. They don’t take it lightly being called Czech, as the official UEFA literature does. Uherské Hradiště is a city in the Moravian region, and the Moravians claim that they not only have better wines than the Czechs, but also that the Apostles of the Slavs, Cyril and Methodius, first landed in Moravia and, in fact, never made it as far as the Czech lands.

And, remember, people in these regions takes such matters very seriously, as if they happened earlier today.

Here’s the issue: should 1. FC Slovácko get a bye into the next round, it’s fine and dandy, except: they will forego gate receipts for the Fenerbahce round.

The team, established in 1927 as SK Staré Město, became 1. FC Synot July 1, 2000 in a merger of the original club with FC Slovácká Slavia Uherské Hradiště. They have played in the Czech First League since 2009, winning the Czech Cup once, and making it to the finals on two more occasions.

The Městský fotbalový stadion at Uherské Hradiště sits 8,000 fans, with another 121 spots for standing room. Not the hugest of football stadia but still, losing gate receipts for what could be expected to be a sell-out could hurt the club.

What happened in Istanbul?

Dynamo midfielder Vitaly Buyalsky put the Ukrainian team ahead in the 57th minute.

He would celebrate, as UEFA described it in their discipline report, “ferociously” and, according to unconfirmed information, was supposed to have made a “provocative gesture” towards fans at the Ulker Stadium.

Everybody and their dog in the football world knows that only the British football hooligans are more devoted to their colours than the fans of Fenerbahce.

As it appeared on numerous social media outlets, that’s when most of the 45,000 fans who had gathered at the Ulker Stadium started chanting Putin’s name.

Shortly before Buyalsky’s opener, a Fenerbahce player had been sent off, and that didn’t improve host team fans’ mood much, either.

Tied at 1–1, the match went into overtime, with the Ukrainian side eventually winning it, 2-1.

Kyiv’s Romanian manager Mircea Lucescu who used to manage teams in Russia, told Turkish broadcasters after the game the chants were unacceptable: they were unsportsmanlike. He didn’t explain his view any further.

Russian athletes have been pariahs in international sports for quite some time. First, it was thanks to a doping scandal with tons of proof that Russian government were involved in the cheating scheme.

Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, her teams are currently banned from competing in international competitions after UEFA and FIFA followed an International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommendation earlier this year.

The Russian city of St. Petersburg was also stripped of last season’s UEFA Champions League final. It was moved to Paris eventually.

Tying sports to politics isn’t the newest game in town. But it’s the most unsportsmanlike game in the world, no matter who plays it and why.

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