12 May ~ Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov is desperate for the region's capital of Grozny to be one of the 13 venues for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Kadyrov has been busy trying to boost the Russian republic's image with two high-profile matches, culminating in last night's game at Terek Grozny's brand new Akhmad-Hajji Kadyrov stadium between Kadyrov's XI and an all-star team featuring Diego Maradona, Luis Figo, Christian Vieri, Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler. The new stadium is named after Ramzan's father, who was assassinated seven years ago – a reminder, if one were needed, of Chechnya's war-torn past.
In a strange quirk of organisation both teams wore white shirts, with Maradona's all-stars in fluorescent orange bibs to distinguish themselves from their opponents. The president took a hands-on approach to the game by making himself captain in a goal-hanging centre-forward position. Dressed rather confusingly in a pair of green Adidas tracksuit trousers instead of the white shorts of his team-mates, Kadyrov's XI enjoyed the generosity of their more illustrious opponents by winning 5-2, which shows there is a fine line between publicity and propaganda.
In March Kadyrov played for a President's XI against a team of ageing Brazilian all-stars, who included Romario, Dunga and Bebeto in their squad. The President's XI were awarded three penalties, all taken by Kadyrov. Having missed the first two with his right foot, he prodded the third with his left. In a show of diplomacy, Brazilian goalkeeper Zetti dived out of the way. The Brazilians won the game 6-4, but the score was completely overshadowed by the publicity Kadyrov received.
Many have drawn their own conclusions on the Brazilians' motives for playing the game, with some reports suggesting they received as much as $350,000 each for their troubles. Former Brazil captain Rai has since spoken of his regret in taking part in the game, going on to say that had he known more about the history and politics of the region he would never have agreed to play.
The stability of Chechnya remains very much in question despite the efforts to rebuild Grozny after the wars of the 1990's. Militants broke inside the Chechen parliament compound in Grozny as recently as October, which resulted in six people being killed. The incident was described by Russian officials as unusual for Chechnya in recent times, which is probably as unlikely to hold any water with FIFA as it is to deter Kadyrov from his ambition of hosting World Cup games in Grozny. Mark Sanderson