Friendly in Chechnya more than just football

MOSCOW • Russia's football match against Romania tomorrow is likely to arouse little interest abroad - though the venue may raise a few eyebrows.

The friendly will be staged in the capital of the Chechen Republic, Grozny, the site of two brutal wars in the 1990s and still considered too much of a security risk to host games in the 2018 World Cup.

That exclusion irked Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a long-time ally of Vladimir Putin, and some see the award of today's match as a gesture of solidarity that at least in part reflects the febrile political climate in which the Russian president operates.

"Putin has massively backed Chechnya financially and politically. This is a show of faith towards Kadyrov that a match of this importance is being allowed to take place here," Russian political scientist Mikhail Zakharov said.

With Moscow involved in fighting the Islamic State in Syria, the fear of a terrorist attack on Russia's southern borders or elsewhere in the country has risen.

"By allowing a match of such importance to take place in Chechnya, Putin is showing that it is safe to hold major events in the south of Russia," Zakharov said.

This will be the first time that Grozny, one of the biggest cities in the North Caucasus, will host a Russia international.

Kadyrov, who rules Chechnya unopposed, is a keen follower of football and the local premier league club Terek Grozny are bankrolled by the government.

"Kadyrov loves to put on shows in order to support the image of unity of Russia and Chechnya and to show his loyalty to Putin," Zakharov said. "Football in Chechnya is about a united political idea."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2016, with the headline 'Friendly in Chechnya more than just football'. Print Edition | Subscribe