26/10/2014 3:35
RIA Novosti

Sport

Russian Premier League kicks off 2008 season in Chechnya

11:31 14/03/2008
GROZNY, March 14 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Premier League begins on Friday with a match in a former war zone as Terek FC host Krilya Sovetov in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

The return of top-level soccer to Chechnya after a gap of 14 years has been widely touted in Russia as a sign of the stabilization of the Chechen Republic after two brutal separatist wars in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, despite the relative calm, militants are still active in the region, most notably in neighboring Ingushetia.

Terek Grozny FC were forced to disband in the mid-1990s due to escalating violence in the Chechen Republic. They later reformed and held their home matches in the town of Pyatigorsk in the North Caucasus. They played in the Premier League in 2005, but were relegated the same season.

They also won the Russian Cup in 2004, the final coming a short while after Akhmad Kadyrov, father of the current Chechen and Terek president, Ramzan Kadyrov, was killed in Grozny in a Victory Day attack in 2004 by forces loyal to the late militant commander Shamil Basayev.

Terek's opponents that day were, by a stroke of fate, Krilya Sovetov.

The decision to permit Terek to play their home matches in Grozny in 2008 was taken by Russian soccer authorities in early March. The side finished second in the First Division last year, earning their place among the elite of Russian soccer.

Commenting on the Russian Football Union's decision, Ramzan Kadyrov said it had "a political significance for the republic," and that it would also "have a positive influence on the region."

He also said that, "In Chechnya there has been no terrorist threat for a long time. Besides this, we have lower crime rates than in other Russian regions and I am sure that the fears of sportsmen and fans have no grounds."

Ramzan Kadyrov and his supporters have been accused of torture and intimidation by human rights groups. He denies the allegations.

Friday's match is to take place in the Dynamo stadium where Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated. The 10,200-capacity ground has been recently renamed and now goes by the name of the Sultan Bilimkhanov stadium.

Russian soccer fans have, understandably, expressed concern about travelling to an area that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently described as unsafe for foreign journalists.

"Despite striking changes in Chechnya and in the North Caucasus on the whole, there nevertheless remain certain [criminals]... who are attempting to turn back the pages of history. They will certainly fail, but they can cause a lot of damage," he said in January.

However, Terek officials have promised to extend "true Chechen hospitality" to visiting fans.

The club's press attache did have one mild word of warning for visiting supporters however, saying that in order to avoid any unpleasantness fans should refrain from swearing.

"It is not the custom to swear here. We would like guests to express themselves decently, especially in public places," he told the club's website.

Security has been stepped up in Grozny in advance of the match and heavy vehicles are being stopped from entering parts of the city.

The match kicks off at 7:00 p.m. local time (16:00 GMT). Entrance is free and a full stadium is expected.

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RIA NovostiRussian Premier League kicks off 2008 season in Chechnya

11:31 14/03/2008 The Russian Premier League begins on Friday with a match in a former war zone as Terek FC host Krilya Sovetov in the Chechen capital, Grozny. >>

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