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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL 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.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid