After years of political tension between the countries, Russia officially invaded Ukraine on Wednesday, bringing swift sanctions and reaction from around the world, as countries almost unanimously opposed the actions spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And now a star Russian soccer player has come forward to denounce the invasion, Fedor Smolov.
The 32-year-old Smolov posted on Instagram a blacked-out picture with the translated caption of “No to war” followed by a broken heart emoji and the Ukrainian flag, condemning his country’s military actions and its ruthless political leader. Smolov has spent nearly his entire professional career playing in the Russian Premier League, currently suiting up for Dynamo Moscow. He has 45 all-time caps with the Russian men’s national team and played in every game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, hosted by Russia.
Smolov speaking out against the Russian government takes tremendous guts, as he could face personal and professional backlash, like many who confront Putin. If you have any doubts about this at all just Google Alexei Navalny and Novichok, or read this piece from the Washington Post. on the suspicious deaths of many of Putin’s critics.
Putin’s reign has seen the repression of political opponents through intimidation — a good number dying mysteriously — and a lack of access of the press to oversee elections in which he’s a candidate. Now, the full-scale invasion of Ukraine marks the latest act of aggression.
Manchester City and Ukrainian international Oleksandr Zinchenko has also routinely spoken out on the invasion this week. In a now-deleted Instagram story, Zinchenko posted a photo of Putin and wrote a message that translates to “I hope you die the most painful suffering death, creature.”
Zinchenko claims the deletion of his Instagram story was not his own choice, but done by the platform itself. The Man City midfielder and defender also shared a post with the message: “If you are Russian and do not speak up now, then you will be an enemy for us forever,” which hasn’t been taken down. Several more posts against the invasion have been shared by Zinchenko, who has 48 career appearances for the Ukrainian national team.
The trickle-down effect of the invasion is likely to last a long time, with a few recent examples coming from neighboring soccer federations. Russia has advanced to the second round of UEFA’s World Cup qualifying process for the 2022 edition in Qatar and is one of a dozen teams vying for one of three remaining spots delegated to European teams, split into three pods of four.
Russia’s three direct competitors, Poland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic, have all said they won’t play in qualifying matches taking place in Russia after the invasion. Ukraine is in another pod with Wales, Austria and Scotland. The matchup between Scotland and Ukraine set for March 24 in Glasgow is in doubt as well with limited airspace available.
There’s precedent for banning or excluding countries from the World Cup for political reasons. For example, both Germany and Japan were excluded from the 1950 World Cup, with Yugoslavia and Libya also being ineligible for the 1994 edition, which was held in the United States. South Africa had a multiple-tournament ban from 1966-90 due to its policy of Apartheid. At the club level, the UEFA Champions League Final will be moved away from Saint Petersburg. It would’ve been the second time Russia hosted the UCL Final after the 2008 matchup between Manchester United and Chelsea.