KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —– Glib soundbites insisting that politics and sport are unconnected have painted Sepp Blatter as increasingly out of touch after, firstly, the ramping up of the Palestine/Israel sports row [see article] and, secondly, last night’s match-wrecking violence in Podgorica.
Montenegro’s Euro 2016 Group G qualifier against Russia was halted twice and eventually abandoned.
The tie was halted initially after only six minutes when Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was hit on the head by a flare thrown from behind his goal;
A match resumption after 35 minutes was approved only after reported telephone exchanges between the match delegate, UEFA president Michel Platini and general secretary Gianni Infantino;
Fighting between home and visiting fans had to be quelled by riot police at half-time, causing a further 18-minute delay;
Midway into the second half players clashed as a further missile hit another Russian player;
Finally, German referee Deniz Aytekin abandoned the game when further trouble exploded after Montenegro keeper Vukasin Poleksic saved a Roman Shirokov penalty.
Injuries and burns
The score was goalless at the time but the tie will probably be awarded 3-0 to Russia by the European federation’s disciplinary body. Akinfeyev was treated in hospital for a neck injury and minor burns.
As it stands, Russia and Montenegro are level on five points behind group leaders Austria (13) and Sweden (nine).
Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic said: “I apologise to the Russian players and staff for everything that’s happened. My players are completely distraught.” Russia coach Fabio Capello considered the abandonment a “correct” decision.
This was the third serious Euro qualifying incident concerning nations from the former Yugoslavia: In October a Serbia-Albania tie in Belgrade last October was abandoned after a flag of ‘Greater Albania’ was flown in by a remote-controlled drone; then in November, in Italy, visiting Croatia fans showered the pitch in Milan with fireworks.
As for Podgorica, trouble at the first football meeting between the nations may have been sparked by more than ‘simple’ hooliganism.
Tension between Montenegro and Russia has increased over the past year because of the European-integration policies of Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic.
His plans, including an alignment with NATO, have prompted warnings of economic and political pressure from Russia whose opposition to such pro-West politicies has already manifested itself in Georgia and, notably and currently, Ukraine.
EU sanctions support
Montenegro had also allied with European Union sanctions against Russia even though 7,000 Russian nationals are permanent residents in the state and Russians own about 40pc of Adriatic coast property.
The difficulty of assessing the influence of political tensions demonstrated that simplistic talk by FIFA president Blatter about the separation of politics and sport is no longer either adequate or helpful.
Blatter and his senior colleagues within the world federation might usefully change course and follow the strategy adopted by Thomas Bach.
Last autumn the International Olympic Comnmittee president signalled a more nuanced and realistic approach to the intractable issue of politics and sport by acknowledging the impossibility of feigning ignorance of a connection.
Of course there may also be a generational separation: Bach is 61, Blatter 79.
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