News / Europe

Football Game Symbolizes Chechnya’s Renaissance

Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov (r) fights for the ball with Brazil's 2002 World Cup-winning side player Dunga (c) during an exhibition match between Brazil's 2002 World Cup-winning side and 'team Kadyrov' in Grozny on March 8, 2011
Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov (r) fights for the ball with Brazil's 2002 World Cup-winning side player Dunga (c) during an exhibition match between Brazil's 2002 World Cup-winning side and 'team Kadyrov' in Grozny on March 8, 2011

Four years ago, the carpet bombed ruins of Grozny, capital of Chechnya, reminded visitors of Stalingrad after World War II.

But last Tuesday night, the explosions here were fireworks, celebrating a morale-boosting exhibition game between Grozny’s football team and members of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winning team at Grozny’s refurbished football stadium.

As the Brazilians in their green and gold jerseys stepped out in the chill mountain air, a crowd of about 10,000 Chechen men, and a handful of women, jumped to their feet for the national anthems of Brazil, Russia and Chechnya.

After years of war, Chechens were bursting with pride that these Brazilian football heroes had flown to a city whose name often evokes fear elsewhere in Russia and the world. For Chechnya, the football game culminates three years of intense rebuilding.

Moscow has invested billions of dollars in rebuilding the capital and the republic. From the capital to the countryside, it is now hard to find physical evidence of two wars that ravaged Chechnya since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Ali, a government advisor, says the exhibition game marks Chechnya’s renaissance from ruin. It also put on display the political formula of his boss, Chechnya's leader, 34-year-old Ramzan Kadyrov.

Chechnya’s young leader rules with a mix of Islamic fervor, energetic populism, and concrete results on the ground, and total loyalty to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

It is no accident that Grozny’s main avenue, Prospect Putin, culminates at the doorstep of a glistening new mosque, reputed to be the largest in Europe. In a city that three years ago had no electricity after dark, the mosque is bathed in soft exterior lights through the night.

At the stadium, a government supplied sign read: "Ramzan, thanks for everything." Tuesday night, a visiting reporter asked Kadyrov if there was more to the exhibition game than football. Without responding directly, he shouted over the reporter’s head, leading fans in chants of "Praise Allah."

In May, Kadyrov is to inaugurate a new city stadium with triple the seating capacity of the current one. Now he wants Grozny to join the list of 13 Russian cities that will host the 2018 World Cup. While no decision has been made, it is clear that the Kremlin likes Kadyrov’s style as Chechnya's leader. Last week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reappointed Kadyrov for a second term as President of Chechnya.

On Friday, Prime Minister Putin announced that Moscow will funnel $12 billion into development projects designed to pacify the Caucasus. With oil prices up, Moscow has the money.

Critics charge that Chechnya’s leader siphons off a fair amount of Moscow’s billions to live a young man’s fantasy life. If an internet surfer googles "Kadyrov cars," photos will pop up of European high performance sports cars allegedly owned by Chechnya’s president. A Google search for "Kadyrov palace" will yield photos of an Arab style palace, complete with gold plated bathroom fixtures, that he has built in his home village.

Last month, Grozny’s football club, Terek, hired as coach the retired Dutch soccer star, Ruud Gullit. According to Moscow media reports, Grozny will pay Gullit $8 million a year to coach a team that represents a city of only 350,000 residents.

On Tuesday night, Kadyrov fulfilled another fantasy - leading a team of friends against the legendary stars of Brazilian football. To prepare for the match, the Chechen leader told reporters he had lost weight.

During the game, the Brazilians obligingly pulled their punches, setting up two foul shots on their goal by the opponents’ center forward: Ramzan Kadyrov.

On the second one, Zetti, the Brazilian goalie helpfully ducked right, as President Kadyrov shot left.

Chechnya’s unhappy history was not far from the game. Seven years ago, at the same stadium, a massive bomb blew up beneath the VIP seats. Among the notables killed was Akhmat Kadyrov, president of Chechnya and father of Ramzan.

Tuesday night at half time, Makka Mejhidova, a singer resplendent in Chechen national dress, walked onto the field in front of the VIP seats and sang national hits. Suddenly, a group of bodyguards charged out of the locker room. And then, there on the field, was Ramzan Kadyrov, in his red and white football jersey, dancing Chechnya’s national dance, the legzinka. The crowd cheered wildly.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid