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

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim 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.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid