Ukrainian goalkeeper Mikhail Gotra has apologised after having his contract with FC Karpaty terminated for cheering on Russia on his Instagram page.
Gotra, 18, posted a Russia flag, accompanied by the word “bravo!” and a photoshopped image of himself with a moustache, contributing to a viral campaign originated in Russia in support of the national head coach Stanislav Cherchesov.
“I’ve been giving my all to sports all my conscious life,” Gotra said in a post on Instagram. “I’ve always stayed away from politics and I didn’t even think my emotional act would make big news, which would stir up not just our country but also neighbouring countries.
“I’ve always been, am and will be a proud Ukrainian. I’ve been and stay loyal to Ukrainian football and its traditions.
“Now, I’ve really thought over my act and understood that it was unacceptable for the fans. I realise and accept that anger that has been coming from them. Indeed, all the fans are true patriots of their state and Ukrainian football and I admire them for that. It is to the fans I want to say sorry for my emotional act.
“As for the club’s decision, I think in professional football such decisions must not be taken on emotions. I want to ask the media not to bother me with unnecessary questions. I don’t want to make any comments until I dot all the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s.”
In a post on Facebook, Karpaty vice-president Oleg Smaliychuk took responsibility for the decision.
“It was my personal decision on Gotra and I, as the club’s manager, take full responsibility for terminating his contract,” he said. “It might be too radical and emotional, but football is impossible without emotions. As in war. My brothers are being killed almost every day. Therefore I don’t give a s— about what those Pro-Russian tramps think. God will judge them. And I ask the fans to forgive the boy, he surely regrets about what he’s done.”
Ukraine’s Minister of Sport and Youth Igor Zhdanov also spoke out in favour, writing on his Facebook page that it was “the right decision from the Karpaty board.”
His post linked to Ukrainian news outlet Zaxid.net, which stated: “The club refused to comment on the issue, but approved that the player’s contract has been terminated.” However, former vice-president of Ukraine’s Football Federation Anatoly Popov called the decision “idiotic.”
“Sport is outside politics, but unfortunately in modern Ukraine it’s become so political in recent times,” Popov said “The hatred can’t be good for anyone. There’s no such thing as ‘football separatism’ in our disciplinary regulations and you can’t just terminate a player’s contract for that. It’s simply idiotic.”
The reaction in Russia has been the opposite, with condemnation from football officials and in the media.
“You are not allowed to discriminate against players for their political views as long as they are within the law,” Russia’s head of the Professional Footballers Union Aleksandr Zotov said. “I would understand it if the player had pro-Nazi views, but this is an absolutely absurd situation. If he appeals the decision in Ukraine, FIFA or even Lausanne [at the Court of Arbitration for Sport], he’ll win the case 100 percent.”
Russian new outlet Championat published a story with the headline “Obscurantism, the Ukrainian way.”
“You can now have your contract terminated in Ukraine simply by photoshopping your picture, adding a moustache, putting a hashtag #moustacheofhope and adding a Russian flag,” a columnist wrote. “Oh, and to be happy for the result of a football match, like when Russia beat Spain, which can lead to similar consequences.
“Freedom of speech, globalisation and democracy are all symbols of a future that will inevitably come. It’s such a shame that in a country where so much effort has been spent on bringing these values closer, many still do not understand this even at the level of political elites.
“We can only hope that among ordinary Ukrainians this story causes the same feeling of absurdity as any adequate person experienced when he heard this nonsense.”