MOSCOW, February 19. /TASS/. Athletes should feel free to express support for the president of their country in public, provided the timing and place are chosen properly, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told TASS.
Washington Capitals’ striker Alexander Ovechkin on Friday cheered up Russian boxer Fedor Chudinov before his fight with Germany’s Felix Sturm. Ovechkin, wearing a T-shirt with images of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, posted a video message in Instagram to wish victory to Chudinov. And on Tuesday, midfielder Dmitry Tarasov, of Russia’s football club Lokomotiv, after an away Europa League match against Turkey’s Fenerbahce, in which the hosts attained a 2:0 win, pulled off his T-shirt to reveal another one with an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin and caption reading The Most Polite President.
"It is absolutely normal that the guys are so patriotic. They support their country and their leader. That’s absolutely normal," Mutko said. "The athletes are more patriotic than anybody else. They perform for the national team. They promote their country’s prestige. Ovechkin and Sharapova, whenever they play abroad, always demonstrate that they represent their great country - Russia. That’s normal and that’s great."
"It’s all very simple, provided the place and timing is right," Mutko said. "The world of sports has its special rules and procedures. Football is the most bureaucratic sport of all, in the good sense, of course. Alexander Ovechkin is a patriot. The whole country knows he is. When he plays for the national team he is prepared to die for it. He does his utmost. But he should never dare break the rules in the NHL. There are certain temporal factors, code of conduct at certain places and formal rules that have to be complied with. In your spare time you are free to express your patriotic feelings. In that sense the guys are right. Displaying one’s patriotism is not prohibited. Many of our boxers appear on the boxing ring to the accompaniment of national songs. They may even wear emblems of the national armed forces and so on. In this way they promote the image of the Armed Forces. In this way they persuade many young men to go to serve in the army. That’s wonderful."
Tarasov later told the mass media he had not planned any provocations. On Wednesday the Union of European Football Associations opened disciplinary proceedings against Dmitry Tarasov.
Mutko believes that any discussion of whether Tarasov was right or wrong was out of place.
"The things I read in the Internet are a very inappropriate discussion," Mutko said. "Some people make comments without knowing the rules. This is precisely why I myself make no comments on this occasion. I’ve said once and I’m saying it again - UEFA will put everything in its proper place. This is UEFA’s realm of activity. It describes the tiniest details of the manner of conduct the footballers are to follow during matches. Everything that some people may say about athletes’ wish to demonstrate love of their country by putting on T-shirts with images of the president is normal. But the occasion must be chosen properly. There was a time when Russians felt no high esteem for their country. I recall the days when some were hiding the national flag and were reluctant to wear anything that might emphasize their nationality. But with time the attitude began to change. Just recall the win over the Netherlands in the 2008 European Football Cup finals. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets. But it is important to ensure there should not develop any extremist bias. It is very wrong to politicize sports after all. Sports should be a uniting force."