Ukraine sports minister demands interrogation of CONIFA winning Karpatalya players

By Mark Baber

June 12 – The victory of Ukraine’s Karpatalya over Northern Cyprus in the 2018 Paddy Power World Football Cup in London on Saturday was a far from a cause for celebration for Ukrainian Sports Minister Igor Zhdanov who called for the players to be interrogated by security services for “sporting separatism” and ties to separatist and terrorist groups.

After Karpatalya, representing a sizeable Hungarian minority living in Carpathian Ruthenia – a south-west area, part of modern-day Ukraine since 1991 – won the CONIFA-organised ‘alternative’ World Cup on a penalty shoot-out in front of 2,500 fans at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium in Enfield, Minister Zhdanov posted on his official Facebook page: “I call on the Security Service of Ukraine to respond appropriately to such a frank act of sporting separatism. It is necessary to interrogate the players of the team, as well as to analyze in detail the activities of the deputy organizer of the “Carpathian” for the purpose of encroachment on the territorial integrity of Ukraine and ties with terrorist and separatist groups.”

The Football Federation of Ukraine also issued a statement on its official web site saying it would be undertaking an investigation into Karpatalya’s players and “according to the results of this review, sanctions will be applied against these players, in particular – disqualification, after which players will not be able to claim to participate in amateur or professional tournaments held on the territory of Ukraine under the auspices of the FFU. “We also urge the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine to pay attention to the fact of participation of the indicated players in competitions organized by CONIFA and to check their actions on the subject of propaganda of separatism and encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine.”

In a statement on its web site, CONIFA said: “CONIFA wishes to stress that it is a politically-neutral, volunteer-run charity registered in Sweden. CONIFA takes no position on the political status of its member associations. CONIFA wishes to state that, to the best of its knowledge, the players, administrators and officials of the Karpatalya football team have never expressed any separatist sentiments or ambitions. The team has a long-standing, demonstrable history of publicly embracing the region’s dual heritage; the team’s flag and logo contain both flags, while the team wears Ukrainian and Hungarian colours on the pitch.”

CONIFA General Secretary Sascha Düerkop said: “CONIFA is alarmed by calls to interrogate players from the Karpatalya team. CONIFA also considers the FFU’s proposal to de-register Karpatalya players to be draconian. We believe that everyone should be able to represent their identity via football. CONIFA stands with the players of Karpatalya and will monitor developments closely. We urge Minister Zhdanov and the FFU to reconsider their position.”

The issue of minority rights in Ukraine has come to the fore as the authorities passed an Education Act, restricting the rights of national minorities to receive education in their native language, as draft laws on language have been proposed and as plans have been developed to sanction dual-nationality.

When Zhdanov issued an official directive in March banning national athletes from participating in all sports competitions held on the territory of Russia the President of the United World Wrestling (UWW) argued such decisions were inadmissible.

On its website, CONIFA describes its relations with FIFA, saying: “We have good, but not that frequent, relations to FIFA. The last statement of them about our actions was more than positive as they stated that they applaud our work.”

It remains to be seen how FIFA will react to Ukrainian authorities’ threats against the players of Karpatalya.

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