sports blog by andy shenk

Should Anzhi Be Allowed to Host UEFA Matches in Dagestan?

In Anzhi, Russian Football on June 25, 2013 at 7:33 AM

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As always, read the entire article at Russian Football News.

On June 19, UEFA banned Anzhi from hosting Europa League matches in Dagestan for the 2013/2014 season. Beginning this fall, Anzhi will welcome European competition to Saturn Stadium, located just outside of Moscow, rather than its home arena in Makhachkala.

Russian Football News contributors Andy Shenk and John Sager debate UEFA’s stance on football in Russia’s southernmost republic, offering an in-depth look at the issues Dagestan is wrestling with as it seeks to establish itself as a major player in European football.

This article is intended to inform and provoke questions, not further inflame tension surrounding this issue. Andy and John, while in disagreement, respect each other’s perspective and both hope that football in Dagestan, and in Russia as a whole, will continue to develop as rapidly as possible.

Andy Shenk: UEFA has made a mistake in not allowing Europa League matches in Dagestan. Dagestani football fans have eagerly awaited UEFA matches in their home republic since Anzhi first qualified for international competition in 2001. At that time, neighboring Chechnya was nearing the end of a decade-long separatist war and Glasgow Rangers, Anzhi’s first European opponent, requested that the two-leg UEFA Cup tie be reduced to a single match at a neutral venue.

To Anzhi’s dismay, UEFA complied with Rangers’ request, leading to a late September contest in Warsaw. The Scots advanced via a 1-0 win. Anzhi did not reach the European zone again until last spring, when they finished 5th in the Russian league.

The war in Chechnya had ended several years before, but UEFA once again laid a ban on European football in Makhachkala, this time due to security concerns within Dagestan itself.

Indeed, political, economic and religious violence have troubled Dagestan since the break-up of the Soviet Union. In summer 2012, and once again this June, UEFA deemed the risk of violence at a high-profile football match in the republic too high, notwithstanding a much improved situation in Chechnya.

The argument for football in Dagestan is a slippery one. No one can guarantee complete security at any major event. Dagestan is no exception. More troublingly, the annual number of explosions and shoot-outs is certainly greater here than in other parts of Russia and Europe.

Several positive factors, however, are worth taking into consideration and form the foundation for my argument why UEFA should be in Dagestan…

John Sager: UEFA made the correct decision to prevent European games from being played in Dagestan.  While I cannot agree with UEFA’s process in handling the ban – particularly in light of reports that UEFA cancelled a planned visit to Dagestan – UEFA’s haste and bias do not render their decision invalid.

First and foremost, Anzhi do not have much of a leg to stand on when the team lives and trains in the city of Moscow, 1,800 kilometers from Moscow.  To give you an idea just how far the team is based from their home stadium, Moscow is about the same distance from Berlin as is Dagestan.  If anyone is perpetuating the myth that Dagestan is an undesirable place to live, it is most certainly the team itself when it bases its players in a metropolitan city so far away.

If Makhachkala is not safe for Anzhi’s own players to live, why should they then expect teams for all over Europe to come play there?  It is fitting that Anzhi has to play their UEFA games in Moscow, considering that is where the team lives and trains.

Secondly, the situation in Dagestan cannot be viewed in a vacuum.  The political circumstances in Dagestan are precarious and always have been, ever since Russia first tried to incorporate Dagestan into its borders.  It took the reign of multiple Tsars over forty years to defeat the mountainous region of Dagestan over the first half of the 19thcentury.  Dagestan, led by their militant-Islamic leader Iman Shamil, fought vigilantly, with great guile and fortitude to protect their land.

This was no small feat, considering up until that time period Dagestan did not exist as a unified unit. The North Caucasus as a whole features multiple ethnic groups and strong clan based culture in which one mountain village may speak an entirely different language than the next village over.   The unification of such a divided population against the entire Russian empire was made possible by the conversion of much of the region to Islam, as well as cultural predisposition to independence in the mountains.  Quite frankly, Dagestan is not a place that ever belonged in the Russian federation under any test – culturally, linguistically, historically, socially – yet here it is today, in Russia, and the same issues keep coming to the forefront.

As a very recent example, earlier this month, the mayor of Makhachkala, Said Amirov, was arrested by Russian Special Forces in a military style operation.  His departure as the most powerful politician in Dagestan, creates a new power vacuum that can ultimately lead to more violence…

Continue reading at Russian Football News.

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