Lokomotiv Moscow look set to learn a harsh lesson from UEFA about how politics and football should never mix.
The Russian club is in the firing line after midfielder Dmitri Tarasov displayed a vest with a message of support for Vladimir Putin following the final whistle of Lokomotiv’s Europa League away defeat at Turkish side Fenerbahce.
Tensions between the two countries remain high after Turkey shot down a Russian Su-34 jet flying inside its border with Syria last November.
In the wake of the attack, there were calls for Russian and Turkish teams to be separated in the draw for the knockout phase of the Europa League and for the national teams to be kept apart at this summer’s European Championships.
UEFA refused, and are likely to punish Tarasov for his inflammatory action following Lokomotiv’s 2-0 defeat.
The midfielder unveiled a vest featuring a portrait of Putin in military gear alongside the words “The most polite president”.
Moscow’s Dmitri Tarasov played in Turkey – wearing a shirt with Vladimir Putin’s face on. This can only end well… pic.twitter.com/XedrnZZd22
— Sporting Index (@sportingindex) February 17, 2016
Speaking after the game, Tarasov showed little remorse. He told R-Sport: “It’s my president. I respect him and decided to show that I’m always with him and prepared to give my support.
“What was written on that shirt was everything that I wanted to say.”
However, Tarasov – and by association Lokomotiv Moscow and Russian football – could face serious ramifications over the vest, and not just because Putin is hardly the sort of politician anyone outside of Russia would view as “polite”.
Two years ago, Josip Simunic was hit with a 10-game international ban after celebrating Croatia’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup with a salute traditionally used by the fascist ‘Ustase’ movement that originated from the Balkans.
Though Tarasov’s message may have been markedly different, he could still fall foul of a similar punishment.
The midfielder may find himself facing punishment over inciting conflict between the opposing Lokomotiv and Fenerbahce fans, particularly with the second leg of the encounter still to be played.
The Railwaymen, meanwhile, could be hit either with a substantial fine or, in the worst-case scenario, a ban from European competition next season – should they qualify after their 2-0 defeat in last night’s first leg.
UEFA has taken a dim view on politics interfering in football in the past, with Celtic among the clubs hit with substantial fines after politically-charged banners were spotted in the crowd at a number of European fixtures.
In 2014, the International FA board placed a ban on the wearing of all vests and t-shirts bearing slogans of any kind. The inflammatory context of Tarasov’s message involved could prompt further action.
Lokomotiv may have already played their last game in Europe this season and perhaps even next.
UEFA has faced criticism over its lax approach to dealing with racism in not only the Russian Premier League but also the wider European game.
A similarly soft measure could be on the cards for punishing Tarasov. But the game’s European governing body has a history of punishing soft targets rather than tackling matters of wider substance, so the Lokomotiv midfielder could see himself being made a scapegoat.
The European governing body has yet to comment on the matter.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.