Russia and Ukraine

No ‘Sports Outside Politics:’ Ukrainian Soccer Giant Dynamo Kyiv Turns Down Serbian Training Offer

Dynamo Kyiv, struggling like other sports teams and athletes in Ukraine to practice and play amid Russia’s ongoing onslaught, got an offer that appeared too good to refuse.

Red Star Belgrade, the storied Serbian side, offered to bring some of Dynamo’s youth players to train in Serbia. All gratis.

But Dynamo Kyiv said no.

The reason? On its website, the Ukrainian soccer giant mentioned that Red Star Belgrade had played matches inside Russia.

“While our country is at war, the principle of ‘sports outside of politics’ does not work for us,” Dynamo Kyiv said in a statement.

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russian athletes and teams have faced global isolation amid outrage. Both UEFA, Europe’s soccer governing body, and FIFA, the global equivalent, have suspended all Russian teams — national and club sides — from participating in their competitions.

Dynamo Kyiv players pose for a team photo before a Europa League match in Kyiv on March 21, 2021.

Dynamo Kyiv players pose for a team photo before a Europa League match in Kyiv on March 21, 2021.

Red Star Belgrade took part in a tournament hosted by Zenit St. Petersburg earlier this month, along with Turkish side Fenerbahce and Azerbaijan’s Neftci. In a statement, Dynamo Kyiv also slammed Fenerbahce for taking part in the tournament in Russia.

“You go on tour to earn money and play along with the aggressor. Nothing can justify this step,” the Ukrainian team said. The Turkish club was punished by UEFA last season after fans chanted Putin’s name during a Champions League match against Dynamo Kyiv.

In July 2022, Red Star Belgrade played Zenit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in a match billed as a “clash of champions,” as both teams had won their domestic leagues that season. At that time, Zenit had a representative office registered in Serbia at Red Star’s address.

The two sides also share a sponsor, Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled Russian energy giant. The company’s logo is not only emblazoned across Red Star’s jerseys but also embossed on the seats at the club’s Rajko Mitic Stadium in the Serbian capital.

Gazprom, directly or through its subsidiaries, is the majority owner of substantial energy assets in Serbia. Since 2008, Gazprom has owned a majority stake in NIS, Serbia’s national oil and gas company.

Red Star players celebrate after winning Serbia's National Cup final soccer match between Red Star and Partizan in Belgrade on May 26, 2022.

Red Star players celebrate after winning Serbia’s National Cup final soccer match between Red Star and Partizan in Belgrade on May 26, 2022.

Although Serbia has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion at the United Nations and other international forums, it has so far refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow.

On April 12, Reuters reported that, according to a classified Pentagon document, Belgrade had agreed to supply arms to Kyiv, or had sent them already. A day later, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic denied this but added that Serbian arms might have reached the battlefield via third countries.

In comments to RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, the Ukrainian Embassy in Belgrade said it understood Dynamo Kyiv’s decision, especially given that children “have been under Russian bombing and shelling for a long time.”

The Ukrainian Embassy, however, added that it had noticed a growing effort by Serbia to provide support to Ukraine and its citizens. “We hope that this tendency will only increase in the future. As well as the feeling of a common future in one European family,” it told RFE/RL.

The Serbian government, including the Sports Ministry, did not respond to requests by RFE/RL for comment on Dynamo Kyiv’s decision to turn down the training offer.

Written by Tony Wesolowsky based on reporting by RFE/RL Balkan Service’s Ljudmila Cvetkovic

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