sports blog by andy shenk

Anzhi Continue Efforts to Return Europa League to Dagestan

In Anzhi, Dagestan, Russian Football on July 7, 2012 at 4:38 PM

Ever since FC Anzhi learned on July 2 that UEFA had banned 2012/2013 Europa League matches in Dagestan, the club and its supporters have worked to have the decision overturned. On Thursday, July 5, I published a report, detailing their efforts and the initial UEFA response, on my blog: UEFA Bans FC Anzhi from Hosting Europa League Matches in Dagestan: Anzhi Fights to Overturn Decision.

This report will deal with developments in the situation over the last two days.

On Friday, July 6, FC Anzhi’s fan club, the Wild Division, published an interview with Anzhi assistant coach, Andrei Gordeev. Though Gordeev primarily commented on Anzhi personnel updates and the team’s progress in preseason training, he did address the players’ feelings about UEFA’s Dagestan ban, “Everyone on the team wants to play in our home arena in Makhachkala and enjoy the passionate support of what would undoubtedly be a standing-room only crowd.”

Gordeev also expressed his personal disbelief that UEFA would not permit Anzhi to host Europa League matches: “If Albania [Gordeev had just returned from a Europa League match in that country] can host international football, what possible concerns can there be about Dagestan? In Albania everything is much less developed – the quality of football, infrastructure, stadiums, etc., yet they’re allowed to play!”

Though UEFA’s decision hinged on the security situation in Dagestan, not football infrastructure, it is interesting to compare the two stadiums of Anzhi’s potential Europa League opponents, Albanian club Flamurtari and Hungarian side Honved, with Anzhi’s current arena, Dinamo Stadium. The Dagestani side’s facilities, despite the republic’s poverty, compare favorably to football stadiums in European nations such as Albania and Hungary.

Later on the evening of July 6, Dagestani boxer Magomed Abdusalam took to the ring in Las Vegas to fight American Maurice Byarm. American sports channel, ESPN2, broadcast the fight live on their weekly boxing event, Friday Night Fights. During introductions, Magomedsalam, well-known to Dagestani fans as an Anzhi supporter, sported a bright yellow Anzhi jersey. Though few Americans likely recognized the shirt, Russian fans watching the national broadcast on Rossiya-2 early in the morning of July 7 would have immediately recognized the Anzhi colors. Abdusalam also put the jersey back on after defeating Bayrm and receiving his title belt.

Several hours later, at 12:00 PM in Dagestan, Anzhi supporters from across the republic gathered in Dinamo Stadium to demonstrate their solidarity and ask UEFA to reconsider its decision to ban Europa League matches in Dagestan.

Fans filled the entire southern end of the stadium to listen to speeches from current head of the Dagestan Football Union and former Anzhi player, Budun Budunov, Wild Division leader Ramazan Gaziev, Olympic champion freestyle wrestler Magomedgasan Abushev, world champion boxer Khabib Allakhverdiev, and others.

Fan club leader Gaziev addressed the crowd first, referencing the UEFA decision eleven years ago to also forbid Europa League play in Dagestan, “For eleven years we have awaited our return to the European football family. As is customary here in the Caucasus region, we hoped to swing wide open our doors to European clubs and fans. Once again, however, we are at risk of losing this opportunity.”

Budun Budunov, Dagestani Football Union chief, spoke next and requested that UEFA President Michel Platini and other officials at least visit Dagestan for a day, “We would show them how we live here and how we treat our guests. We would be very happy to see a UEFA commission in Dagestan and to be given one chance to participate in European football.”

Several other guests, among them Khabib Allakhverdiev and Seifulla Magomedov, four-time European champion in taekwondo, emphasized the positive impact Anzhi played in inspiring young people to get involved in athletics. According to Allakhverdiev, “Thanks to FC Anzhi, many children are involved in football and our gymnasiums are full. I hope that UEFA will hear us, make a wise decision, and allow us to play our home games here in our city.”

Ramazan Gaziev concluded the protest by reading a resolution, drafted by rally organizers in response to UEFA’s decision. It described UEFA’s ban as both unfair and unfounded, emphasizing the negative impact the decision would have on the development of sport in Dagestan, as well as pointing out the Russian Football Union’s twenty-year-long affirmation of Makhachkala as a safe location for Russian league and cup matches. The resolution called on UEFA to appoint a special commission to travel to Dagestan and personally investigate the security situation on the ground,  in addition to asking the government of the Russian Federation to offer any needed guarantees of safety to UEFA concerning Europa League matches in Dagestan.

Throughout the meeting, the emcee began chants of “Anzhi” or “Dagestan,” which received the full-throated support of the crowd. The rally ended on one such cheer, “Dagestan, Dagestan, Dagestan,” and Anzhi supporters dispersed, hoping that this event might bring them one step closer to changing the minds of the UEFA leadership. A quote from Gaziev near the beginning of the event perhaps represents best the frustration and the hope in the crowd, “European officials made this decision on the basis of various stereotypes, unable to even find the time to come here and assess the real situation. We are happy that many…have supported our indignation. We will do everything we can to defend our right to watch Anzhi matches in our homeland.”

Dagestanis can only hope that UEFA will listen seriously to their pleas, and reexamine the aforementioned “stereotypes.” It would be a rare moment for such a grave institution to reverse itself, but Dagestan and its passionate fans at least deserve a more thoughtful, carefully investigated assessment from UEFA.

Below I have translated the official resolution adopted by Anzhi fans at the July 7 rally in Makhachkala. In addition, a video of the proceedings may be viewed here: July 7 Anzhi Rally in Makhachkala

 Resolution

Adopted by participants in the “UEFA in Dagestan” rally, held at 12:00 PM on July 7, 2012 at Dinamo Stadium, Makhachkala, Republic Dagestan. 

We, the participants of this rally, understanding our responsibility with regard to the future of the Republic of Dagestan, believe the UEFA Executive Committee’s decision on June 30, 2012 to ban Europa League matches in Makhachakala to be unfair and unfounded.

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.

In evaluating the security 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 location.

Makhachkala meets the security standards of the Russian Football Union, which holds its competitions under UEFA auspices and uses the same security standards when overseeing league and cup matches.

Keeping all this in mind, with sincere belief in the principle of fair play

We request:

UEFA, under the leadership of President Michel Platini, to form and send a special commission to Makhachkala, comprised of UEFA employees and independent security experts, in order to conduct a realistic and objective evaluation of the potential for holding 2012/2013 Europa League matches in Dagestan.

The Russian Federation, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, to present UEFA with all required guarantees of safety during 2012/2013 Europa League matches held in Dagestan.

All those who believe in the principle of fair play to show their support for our appeal to overturn the ban on 2012/2013 Europa League games in Dagestan.

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