Andrew Osborn








Brazil v Chechnya: Ramzan Kadyrov's footballing ambitions, 8th March 2011 09:50

Chechnya's improbable bid to turn itself into a footballing powerhouse has as much to do with Russia's Machiavellian politics and the personal ambitions of one man than the beautiful game.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the internal Russian republic's Kremlin-backed leader, is keen to show the world and the Kremlin that he has transformed Chechnya from the pulverised war zone it used to be into a safe and flourishing part of the world's largest country.

He is also keen for Chechnya to host a match or two when Russia hosts the 2018 World Cup even though Grozny, the Chechen capital, is not currently on the list of host cities. A 34-year-old former rebel fighter who once fought against the Russians only to switch sides, Mr Kadyrov is an unlikely figure to preside over a footballing renaissance.

Human rights group have repeatedly accused his forces of extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and torture. Most recently, his critics even accused his regime of running death squads who bumped off his enemies around the world.

But the Chechen leader, who likes to pair a pinstripe suit with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, has always laughed off such accusations dismissing them as lies dreamt up by his enemies to blacken his name. He has also strongly denied any involvement in the 2006 murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was particularly critical of his leadership.

Mr Kadyrov was first thrust into politics in 2004 after his father was blown up by Islamist terrorists in the local football stadium. A dedicated fan of Vladimir Putin, Mr Kadyrov was gifted the Chechen presidency by the Kremlin in 2007 and has sworn eternal loyalty to Mr Putin since.

The recipient of huge quantities of federal aid, he and his supporters have painstakingly rebuilt the war-scarred ruins of the Chechen capital Grozny in an attempt to turn it into a showcase for the new "peaceful" Chechnya.

However, it is a strategy that has had mixed success. Islamist terrorists continue to kill and maim in Chechnya, and suicide bombings and shoot-outs are not uncommon. Though Mr Kadyrov prefers boxing himself, he is the chairman of the local Terek Grozny football team which earlier this year brought in former Dutch international Ruud Gullit as its manager.

In a part of the world where many still languish in poverty, Mr Kadyrov and his retinue somehow seem to be able to lay their hands on tens of millions of pounds to fuel their unlikely footballing fantasy.