sports blog by andy shenk

UEFA Bans Anzhi From Hosting Europa League Matches in Dagestan: Club Fight to Overturn Decision

In Anzhi, Dagestan, Russian Football on July 5, 2012 at 8:59 PM

On July 2, Russian football club, FC Anzhi, learned that it would not be allowed to host 2012/2013 Europa League matches in its home city of Makhachkala. The Executive Committee of UEFA, Europe’s governing football association, which oversees both the Europa League and Champions League competitions, determined that the security level in Makhachkala, the capital city of the Russian Republic of Dagestan, was not sufficiently high enough to allow for UEFA-sanctioned Europa League matches.

In the two months leading up to Anzhi’s initial Europa League tie, scheduled for July 19 and July 26 against the winner of the 1st qualifying round tie between Albanian club Flamurtari and Hungarian side Honved Budapest, Anzhi fans had focused on whether the team would have a suitable stadium in which to host UEFA-sponsored competition. The team’s current stadium, Dinamo, located in downtown Makhachkala, was built in the early 1900s. Despite recent renovations, both club officials and fans feared that it would not pass UEFA inspections. With Anzhi’s new stadium, Anzhi Arena, still under construction, the team would be forced to host Europa League opponents in Vladikavkaz, Krasnodar, or Moscow.

Thus, UEFA’s decision to ban Europa League matches because of the perceived security threat shocked FC Anzhi management and its passionate fanbase. For Anzhi supporters, memories of the club’s first and only appearance in the Europa League in 2001, then known as the UEFA Cup, until qualification this spring, sprang to mind. At that time, UEFA, under pressure from Anzhi’s opponent, Scottish side Glasgow Rangers, had forced the Dagestani club to forgo its right to host a European team in its home city, and play a one-leg tie with Rangers at a neutral site, Warsaw. Anzhi lost the match, 1-0, and for eleven years awaited another opportunity to finally bring European competition to Dagestan.

If in 2001 the Scots may have been justified in requesting a neutral site, given the on-going conflict at that time between rebels and the Russian military in the neighboring republic of Chechnya, then this year’s decision by UEFA to again deprive Anzhi of Europa League matches in Makhachkala came three years after the official end of the Russian-Chechen conflict.

Violence between Russian armed forces and Dagestani criminals has continued up to the present day. Frequent shootings in Makhachkala and outlying towns are reported frequently by the Russian media, and, to some extent, the characterization of Dagestan as a violent land is not misplaced. In the first half of 2012, Dagestani law-enforcement reports that 116 terrorist crimes were committed in which 67 people died, including 60 armed personnel and seven civilians. In addition, the Center for Economic Research reported that in the first half of 2011 Dagestan led Russia with the most gun-related incidents – 336.

However, when comparing overall crime rates in the Russian Federation, Dagestan ranks near the very bottom. In 2010, only Chechnya, Dagestan’s neighbor to the west, reported fewer crimes (1.9 and 2.3 per 1000 citizens, respectively), and Dagestan’s incidence of murder ranks favorably with other Russian provinces. Forty-four of eighty-three Russian provinces have worse murder rates than Anzhi’s native land.

Furthermore, in Anzhi’s defense, in more than twenty years of hosting Russian league and cup matches in Makhachkala, not one serious incidence of violence has been reported connected to football.

Makhachkala, in recent years, has also played host to a number of international competitions. International wrestling competitions, in particular, are held annually in Makhachkala and Khasavyurt. The most prestigious of these competitions, the World Cup of Freestyle Wrestling, took place in Makhachkala on March 19-20. Wrestlers from ten nations, including Cuba, Hungary, Ukraine, and Bulgaria, competed in the Dagestani capital. Prior to the event, International Federation of Associated Wrestling (FILA) President Rafael Martinetti, praised Dagestan’s preparation for the event, in addition to emphasizing the positive role wrestling played in the republic: “All of this [Dagestan’s preparation] speaks of the positive changes in the socio-economic development of the republic. It’s wonderful that free-style wrestling can serve as one of the catalysts of this process.”

Following the tournament, Martinetti and Dagestani President, Magomedsalam Magomedov, discussed Dagestani’s chances of hosting either the European or World Wrestling Championships in 2015. According to FILA vice-president Georgii Bryusov, Martinetti affirmed Dagestan’s candidacy, provided the republic could develop the needed infrastructure – modern hotels, airport renovations, and improved roads. Despite the current lack of infrastructure, according to Bryusov, “We are convinced that the Republic of Dagestan, in partnership with the Russian Federation of Wrestling (FSBR) and FSBR Guardian Council, is entirely capable of overcoming these concerns.”

 Not surprisingly, FC Anzhi quickly and publicly protested the UEFA Executive Committee’s decision to deprive Dagestan of 2012/2013 Europa League matches. The most vociferous opposition, understandably, came from Anzhi’s fanbase. Anzhi’s largest fan club, the “Wild Division,” posted an official letter of protest on its website twenty-four hours after learning of UEFA’s decision. Soon after, fans announced a public protest, to be held on Saturday, July 7 in Anzhi’s home arena, Dinamo Stadium.

About the same time, FC Anzhi General Director Aivaz Kaziakhmedov sent UEFA President Michel Platini the club’s own letter, detailing their disagreement with UEFA’s evaluation of the security situation in Dagestan, as well as their concern that UEFA’s actions would irreparably set back Anzhi’s efforts to develop football, and society as a whole, in Dagestan. Kaziakhmedov emphasized Anzhi’s frustration that UEFA had not sent a special commission to Makhachkala to study the question in person, relying rather on what UEFA would later refer to as a “trustworthy dossier” on Dagestan’s security situation.

On July 4, one day after receiving Kaziakhmedov’s letter, and two days after the initial announcement was made, UEFA Competitions Director Giorgio Marchetti responded to Anzhi’s request to reconsider with a polite, but firm refusal.

Anzhi, however, did not give up the struggle. “Wild Division” members continued to advertise the planned July 7 meeting on their website, dd05.ru, while club officials managed to secure the support of Dagestani President Magomedsalam Magomedov and the Executive Committee of the Russian Football Union (RFS). Both Magomedov and the RFS Executive Committee subsequently submitted their own letters of support to UEFA for Anzhi’s right to host Europa League matches in Dagestan.

On the morning of July 5, Kaziakhmedov commented on the developing situation to “R-Sport,” “The club has already taken action and sent an official request to UEFA to reconsider their decision. That request received an unfavorable response; however, today the Executive Committee of the RFS officially asked UEFA to reconsider, and the President of the Republic of Dagestan did so as well, in addition to submitting all necessary security guarantees [from the Dagestani government].”

FC Anzhi and its fans will now await UEFA’s latest response to their attempts to restore Dagestan’s right to host Europa League competition. Though their efforts may ultimately be in vain, Anzhi fans have gained invaluable experience in organizing themselves to work together for a common goal. Indeed, mass protests in Dagestan do not have a long history and recent Dagestani demonstrations against corruption, both political and economic, have often met with swift consequences from the government.

Anzhi’s public protest against UEFA has been officially approved by the Dagestani government, which fact the “Wild Division” prominently advertised in its official appeal to Dagestanis to gather at Dinamo Stadium on July 7. The opportunity, however, to organize peacefully and without fear of reprisal, in pursuit of the greater Dagestani good may prove invigorating to local citizens who wish to positively impact their society. The Anzhi protests, particularly at the ground level, are a promising sign for Dagestan’s future, both in football and beyond.

I have translated below eight pertinent documents, beginning with the UEFA Executive Committee decision to ban Europa League matches in Dagestan. Here are the translations, in the chronological order that each document was released on the internet:

1. UEFA Executive Committee decision to ban Europa League matches in Dagestan.  

2. FC Anzhi’s initial response to the UEFA decision.

3. The “Wild Division’s” official letter of protest.

4. FC Anzhi’s official letter of protest.

5. The “Wild Division’s” public appeal to Dagestanis to protest the UEFA decision on July 7 in Dinamo Stadium.

6. President of Dagestan Magomedsalam Magomedov’s letter of protest on behalf of all Dagestanis.

7. UEFA’s official response to FC Anzhi’s letter.

8. The RFS Executive Committee’s letter of protest.

 UEFA Executive Committee Decision – July 2, 2012 (6:00 AM EST)

On June 30 in Kiev, UEFA’s Executive Committee studied the security situation in Dagestan, and, in particular, in Makhachkala. Following deliberations, the committee reached the decision that FC Anzhi will not be allowed to host Europa League matches in Dagestan during the 2012/2013 season.

Both the Russian Football Association and FC Anzhi have been informed of this decision.

FC Anzhi is now preparing a proposal for the reserve stadium, located within the territory of the Russian Federation, in which to host 2012/2013 Europa League matches. The reserve stadium must meet all UEFA requirements.

The Executive Committee’s decision will immediately be sent to UEFA headquarters for approval.

http://fc-anji.ru/news/ru/club_news/reshenie_ispolkoma_uefa/

Official Announcement from FC Anzhi Administration – July 2 (1:00 PM EST)

FC Anzhi’s official response to the recent UEFA Executive Committee decision.

FC Anzhi General Director, Aivaz Kaziakhmedov, prepared the following response to the recent UEFA Executive Committee decision to forbid FC Anzhi from hosting 2012/2013 Europa League matches in Makhachkala: “In the name of FC Anzhi, I would like to express that our club is greatly saddened by the UEFA Executive Committee’s decision to forbid our team from participating in Europa League matches in our home city of Makhachkala. The decision was not made due to a lack of athletic infrastructure in Makhachkala. Rather, the decision was handed down for completely different reasons, not related in any way to the existing football accommodations in Dagestan. Nonetheless, FC Anzhi administration will do everything within its strength to ensure that, even in this difficult situation, the interests of its fans would be served above all. We have no right to take away their right to watch their favorite team play its home matches. Indeed, we are already working on how to resolve this question.”

http://fc-anji.ru/news/ru/club_news/oficial_noe_zajavlenie_rukovodstva_fc_anji/

Public Appeal from FC Anzhi Fan Club “Wild Division” – July 3 (6:50 AM EST)

A public appeal from FC Anzhi fan club “Wild Divison”, concerning UEFA’s decision to prohibit FC Anzhi from hosting 2012/2013 Europa League matches in the Republic of Dagestan.

 Dagestanis met with great dismay the news that UEFA had prohibited FC Anzhi from hosting 2012/2013 Europa League matches in the Republic of Dagestan.

The “Wild Division,” representing the interests of FC Anzhi fans, announces its opposition to this decision, believing it to be both unfounded and unjust.

The UEFA ban contradicts foundational principles of athletics and Olympic ideals concerning the equal right of all peoples to enjoy sports and its social impact. Indeed, this decision weakens UEFA’s geographic sphere of influence in the European region, as it instantaneously excludes a territory with a population of three million people.

UEFA’s decision at the international level calls into question the authority of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Dagestan, particularly their ability to guarantee public safety at athletic competitions. Such a decision cannot conceivably promote societal stability within our country or republic. Quite the opposite, it leads to increased instability. The level of societal tension in Dagestan noticeably rose after this unjust decision was made public.

UEFA’s assessment of the level of safety in Dagestan, on the basis of which this disputed decision was made, appears to have been subjective and not based on accurate information. In evaluating the situation in Dagestan, the hosts’ (FC Anzhi’s) opinion was not taken into consideration. Neither, in fact, were local experts consulted or a professional investigation conducted on the ground.

This decision contradicts Russian Football Union regulations, particularly its standards for security and safety during competitions. We find ourselves, however, in a situation now where a football club participates in competitions sanctioned by a national association, abiding by said association’s rules and regulations, yet when it wishes to participate in competitions held by a separate association, of which its own national association is a member, it must observe a different set of standards. Such a conflict of jurisdiction does not promote the integration of Russian football clubs into the European football family.

With this in mind, FC Anzhi’s fan club, the “Wild Division,” guided by Russian and Dagestani national interests and with firm belief in the ideals of fair play, requests the following:

  1. That the Russian Federation, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, and the Republic of Dagestan, under the leadership of Magomedsalam Magomedov, present UEFA with all required guarantees of safety during 2012/2013 Europa League matches held in Dagestan.
  1. That FC Anzhi, in the name of its General Director, Aivaz Kaziakhmedov, and the Russian Football Union, in the of Acting President, Nikita Simonyan, begin efforts to defend the legal rights and interests of FC Anzhi and its fans by contesting, via the proper avenues, UEFA’s decision to forbid FC Anzhi from hosting 2012/2013 Europa League matches in Dagestan.
  1. That UEFA form and send a special commission to Dagestan, comprised of UEFA employees and independent security experts, in order to conduct an objective evaluation of the potential for holding 2012/2013 Europa League matches in Dagestan. We further ask that the positive experience FILA, and other international athletics organizations, have enjoyed when hosting major competitions in Dagestan, be considered.
  1. That regional and federal media outlets offer their support in broadcasting the public protest against UEFA’s decision to ban 2012/2013 Europa League matches in Dagestan.

Sincerely,

Ramazan Gaziev
Director, “Wild Divison”

http://www.dd05.ru/news/show/otkryitoe_obraschenie_bolelschikov_fk_anji

 Open Letter from FC Anzhi to UEFA – July 3 (7:20 AM EST)

To UEFA President, Mr. Michel Platini

Dear President Platini,

With great sorrow, and, to be honest, amazement we learned of UEFA’s decision to not allow Anzhi to host its Europa League matches in Makhachkala.

We are troubled not only by the decision made, but also by the manner in which it was made. Typically, in such situations UEFA representatives consult with the management of both the national football association and football club in question, in addition to authorizing a commission to personally investigate whether matches may be held in this or that city. Unfortunately, in this case, nothing along these lines was done.

For more than twenty years FC Anzhi has hosted matches in Makhachkala, both in Russian league and cup competitions. During that time, not a single serious incident has taken place within our stadium.

European and world football stars – Roberto Carlos, Samuel Eto’o, Yuri Zhirkov, and others – happily play in Makhachkala for FC Anzhi under the direction of their head coach – Guus Hiddink.

Millions of our fans awaited the Europa League matches in Makhachkala, looking forward to what promised to be a wonderful party. FC Anzhi’s owner has invested millions into renovating our stadium, as well as constructing a new ultramodern football arena, youth football academy, and seven football centers throughout the republic of Dagestan. Moreover, FC Anzhi has been declared a “territory of peace,” and we believe that holding Europa League matches in Dagestan will witness further proof of our commitment to preserve peace and observe all possible security measures.

What, then, are we to do with these projects following such a decision from UEFA? Should we stop that which we have begun? Perhaps such efforts are not needed to develop football, encourage healthy living and find solutions to pressing social problems? Does not UEFA just as actively promote the improvement of social concerns via the development of football? With this in mind, we’re forced to assume that the recent decision handed down by UEFA’s Executive Committee concerning FC Anzhi contradicts UEFA’s formally expressed values.

We’ve long known that UEFA, and you, personally, Mr. President, actively promote the principles of humanism, kindness, and respect for all humanity. In considering our situation, please respect these principles, as well as the primary UEFA injunction – Fair Play.

Football fans across Europe, Russia, and our native Dagestan are the intended beneficiaries of our efforts. Given that the Executive Committee’s ruling “On the Banning of 2012/2013 Europa League Matches in Dagestan,” was reached due to safety concerns for both the visiting team and its fans, FC Anzhi is prepared to present any and all necessary, documented guarantees of safety from the proper government agencies.

We’ve heard our fans’ impassioned outcry. We know that they believe deeply that justice will be done in this matter. Thus, in our view, there is still time for a wise and balanced decision to be made.

We trust in your wisdom, Mr. President.

With our best wishes,

Aivaz Kaziakhmedov
General Director, FC Anzhi

http://fc-anji.ru/news/ru/club_news/oficial_noe_pis_mo_fc_anji_v_uefa/

An Appeal to Dagestanis – July 4 (8:05 AM EST)

A public meeting will be held at 11:00 AM on Saturday, July 7 in Dinamo Stadium to protest the recent UEFA decision to forbid football in Dagestan. The “Wild Division” appeals to all Dagestanis, who value the fate of their native land, to come to the meeting and support our initiative.

Dear Dagestani brothers and sisters!

You all know that our beloved FC Anzhi, which proudly represents our republic on the football pitch, was stripped of its right to compete in the 2012/2013 Europa League season.

For eleven years, ever since the draw brought Anzhi and Scottish club, Glasgow Rangers, together, we have awaited a return to the European football family. We hoped to open our doors in hospitality to Europe’s leading clubs.

Sadly, we are once being deprived of this opportunity!

UEFA, Europa League organizer, captive to media exaggerations and stereotypes, refused Anzhi the right to host opponents in its native land of Dagestan.

European bureaucrats themselves believe and are attempting to convince others that we are not masters of our own land, that crooks govern here and that a peaceful life is not possible. The UEFA decision is an insult to us, Dagestanis, because it casts doubt on the unwavering Caucasus traditions of hospitality and our ability to protect our guests.

This is an unjust decision – a blow not only to FC Anzhi and its fans, but also to all of Dagestan, the Caucasus region, and Russia. This is an insult, and we must defend our honor and our interests by doing all that we can in order to reverse this shameful ban.

Russian and Dagestani authorities, FC Anzhi, and “Wild Divison” fans are already doing all they can to ensure that this football holiday can be celebrated on our land.

The time has come for regular Dagestanis, too, to support this all-encompassing protest.

In Makhachkala’s Dinamo Stadium (Dakhadaev Street), on Saturday, July 7, at 11:00 AM, a government-authorized protest against the injustice of European football officials will take place.

 We will change this situation only if we can unite around a common goal and work in unison. Only our united fist will be capable of breaking down the wall of injustice, with which they wish to separate us from the rest of Russia and the world.  

 Everything depends on you!

 Watch below the video created by the “Wild Division” to encourage attendance at the July 7 protest:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8k5vCAwl7E&feature=player_embedded

This links to one of the posters, advertising the July 7 protest:

http://f2.s.qip.ru/Ha2NTHaO.jpg

 http://www.dd05.ru/news/show/miting_v_podderjku_anji

Magomedsalam Magomedov’s Appeal to Michel Platini on Behalf of All Dagestanis – July 4 (11:30 AM EST)

 The President of the Republic of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov addressed UEFA President Michel Platini concerning the recent decision by UEFA’s Executive Committee to forbid FC Anzhi to host 2012/2013 Europa League matches in Dagestan.

 The Dagestani president’s press service informed RIA (Russian Information Agency) “Dagestan,” that the president had notified UEFA leadership that their decision was received with great surprise and dismay by hundreds of thousands of fans and millions of Dagestanis, who had looked forward to celebrating Europa League matches in Makhachkala, as well as the beautiful style of European football that the competition offers.

Magomedsalam Magomedov emphasized that athletics have been and will always remain an important part of strengthening goodwill between peoples and unifying society. For the people of Dagestan FC Anzhi represents an important socio-cultural project and  promotes the values of patriotism, citizenship, tolerance, and healthy living.

The president brought attention to the fact that for the past twenty years Dagestan has surely and steadily developed football in the republic. Committed planning, serious finances, and investment have brought about the on-going development of a world-class football infrastructure.

From Magomedsalam Magomedov: “The decision by UEFA’s Executive Committee is even more bewildering, given that Dagestan annually hosts dozens of international athletic events. In the past year alone athletes from more than forty nations have taken part in these competitions. Moreover, all of these competitions have received high praise for their level of organization, for running smoothly and for the absence of any serious problems related to safety.”

Following discussions between President Magomedov and Russian Federation law-enforcement officials, Dagestan is prepared to offer any necessary guarantees of safety during Europa League matches hosted in the republic.

The President appealed to Mr. Platini and his background as an elite footballer, and idol to millions of fans, with this request: “Please take our fans’ passion into account and consider the possibility of reversing this unjust decision by sending a UEFA commission to Makhachkala to study the situation on the ground.”

http://www.riadagestan.ru/news/2012/7/4/138857/

UEFA Response to FC Anzhi Letter – July 4 (12:20 PM EST)

Mr. Kaziakhmedov!

Thank you for your letter addressed to UEFA President Michel Platini.

We understand your club’s disappointment over the ban on matches in your home stadium. However, such is UEFA’s responsibility – to ensure standard security conditions for all participants in our competitions.

The Executive Committee of UEFA made this decision based on a trustworthy dossier. This dossier confirms that the security threat in Dagestan because of terrorism remains quite high. This security threat has led many governments to officially warn their citizens to abstain from traveling to Dagestan and neighboring regions.

In such a situation we believe that it would be irresponsible of UEFA to allow matches to be held in Makhachkala. If it was allowed, then it would expose the visiting team, officials, media representatives, and fans to a level of risk not acceptable to most government agencies.

We highly value the projects your club has undertaken for the good of Makhachkala and commend you to continue work in that direction. Nonetheless, the first and primary condition of international competition in your republic consists of guaranteeing security standards, which would allow foreign visitors to come to Dagestan.

Please know that any decision, which separates a club from its local fanbase, is not made lightly by UEFA, and we are deeply sorry when such a decision must be made, as in this instance.

We hope for your understanding and cooperation in finding a suitable location for FC Anzhi to host 2012/2013 Europa League matches.

With best wishes,

Giorgio Marchetti,
Competitions Director, UEFA

http://fc-anji.ru/news/ru/club_news/otvet_uefa_na_zapros_anji/

Russian Football Union Executive Committee’s Address to Michel Platini – July 5 (12:20 PM EST)

Mr. Michel Platini, UEFA President
5 July 2012
UEFA Europa League, Anzhi Makhachkala

Mr. President,

In the name of the Russian Football Union’s Executive Committee, we wish to express our respect and appeal to you concerning the issue named above.

With great sorrow we learned of the UEFA Executive Committee’s decision to forbid our football club, Anzhi Makhachakla, from hosting Europa League matches in Dagestan.

Taking into account the wishes of millions of our country’s fans, we are prepared to present you with all the documents necessary to guarantee security at the matches and compliance with all UEFA standards required to hold competitions in Makhachkala.

Similar guarantees from the proper government agencies may also be obtained from FC Anzhi management.

If you are able to entertain this possibility, we are prepared to begin immediate consultations on the issue, with the inclusion of all concerned parties.

With respect,

Nikita Simonyan,
Acting President, Russian Football Union

http://fc-anji.ru/news/ru/club_news/obrashhenie_ispolkoma_rfs_k_mishelju_platini/

In addition, letters of support for FC Anzhi have been written by Dagestan’s Freestyle Wrestling Team and Budun Budunov, head of the Dagestani Football Union:

Dagestan Wrestling Team Letter of Support:

http://wrestdag.ru/news/ru/news/sbornaja_dagestana_po_vol_noj_bor_be_vistupila_s_obrashheniem_k_uefa/

Budun Budunov Appeal to UEFA:

http://www.dd05.ru/articles/show/myi_imeem_pravo_videt_luchshie_komandyi_kontinenta

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