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Russia demands Uefa ban Ukraine’s manager for remarks about war

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Exclusive: Russian football union accuses Oleksandr Petrakov of discrimination and political bias

Russia is urging Uefa to ban the manager of the Ukraine men’s national team from football after he expressed a wish to fight Vladimir Putin’s invading forces, the Guardian can reveal.

The Football Union of Russia has written to the governing body accusing Oleksandr Petrakov of discriminating against Russians and failing to remain politically neutral.

Denis Rogachev, the deputy secretary general of the FUR, cited comments carried in two newspapers – Italy’s Corriere dello Sport and Russia’s Sport Express – as evidence of Petrakov’s guilt.

In a letter to Uefa’s control, ethics and disciplinary body, Petrakov is accused of breaching codes of conduct by calling for Russians to be banned from international sport and talking about his hopes of joining the armed forces.

The latter comments were first made by Petrakov in an interview in April with the Guardian. They were subsequently picked up by Corriere dello Sport.

“I thought, if they come to Kyiv, I will pick up a weapon and defend my city,” Petrakov said. “I am 64 but I felt it was normal to do this. I think I could take two or three enemies out.”

Petrakov, now 65, said in the interview, which took place in Kyiv at the height of the fighting, that he had spoken to a member of Ukraine’s government shortly after Russia’s invasion about joining the territorial defence. He was advised that his age and lack of military experience made it unwise.

The FUR claims the comments from Petrakov, a Russian speaker, breach Fifa and Uefa codes prohibiting “discrimination of any kind against a country” and seeking to promote football “in a spirit of peace”.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian Association of Football said: “When his country was attacked by invading inhumans, [Petrakov] was ready to defend his land, his women and children.

“He was not accepted into the army due to his lack of military experience, but his step is a testament to his devotion to the country and patriotism.

“What kind of discrimination can we talk about in relation to a nation that deliberately commits genocide against another nation?”

Uefa and Ukrainian flags fly over Hampden Park before a match between Scotland and Ukraine. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Petrakov won praise in June for his conduct in Britain when his team ended Scotland’s hopes of World Cup qualification at Hampden Park before losing in Cardiff to Wales.

Rogachev’s carefully worded letter to Uefa does not make reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the war in which thousands of civilians and military personnel have died.

“The statements by the head coach of the Ukrainian representative football team, Oleksandr Petrakov, are made against the background of the political conflict between the two countries – Russia and Ukraine – and represents a political message which obviously violates the fundamental principle of political neutrality,” he wrote.

“Moreover, the head coach’s behavior (sic) can be regarded as involvement on (sic) promoting public hatred on [a] national basis and [the] use of football to assert the (sic) political views.”

The FUR claims that Petrakov effectively made a “call for violence” and that his comments are “discriminatory on a national basis, as Oleksandr Petrakov calls for suspending all Russian athletes and imposing this sanction to all citizens of the Russian Federation without any legal justification”.

Russian football clubs and national teams have been suspended from all competitions by Fifa and Uefa but the ban does not cover individual players.

The FUR notes the precedent of a life ban and €100,000 (£87,000) fine given to an employee of Qarabag in Azerbaijan after he posted a message on Facebook in which he called for Armenians, including “children, women, old people”, to be killed.

The union highlighted that Uefa requested Fifa “spread this sanction worldwide”.

A complaint to Uefa’s disciplinary body prompts an investigation. Agreement on a sanction would require the support of a majority of the body, which is made up of a president, two vice-presidents and between three and seven members.

A Uefa spokesman said: “We cannot comment on individual cases. When complaints are received, they are dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the disciplinary regulations. We have no further information to provide you with at this stage.”

Petrakov was lauded by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, after leading Ukraine to victory in the 2019 Under-20 World Cup.

The national team manager, who took over from the former Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko in August 2021, was distraught after losing in Cardiff but thanked the Welsh people for their support and wished Wales well in the World Cup.

“I think we did everything that we could but I really want the people of Ukraine to remember our team, our efforts,” he told a press conference. “I want to say sorry that we didn’t score but this is sport. This is how it happens and I just don’t … I’m lost for words. I don’t know what to say.”

The FUR did not respond to a request for comment.

Source : The Guardian