RFA Sanctions Infuriate Zenit

RFA Sanctions Infuriate Zenit

The club’s quest to retain its title has hit a setback after being handed a 0-3 default loss and forced to play two matches behind closed doors.

Published: November 28, 2012 (Issue # 1737)

Despite an appeal by St. Petersburg’s soccer club FC Zenit against sanctions imposed by the disciplinary committee of the Russian Football Association last week, Zenit was forced to play a key derby with one of its main rivals, Russian Premier League leader CSKA Moscow, behind closed doors Monday.

An encounter that would usually draw a sell-out crowd of 20,000 raucous home supporters and a smaller contingent of away fans was played in an eerily empty Petrovsky stadium. The match ended in a 1-1 tie, with Renat Yanbayev opening the scoring for Zenit in the 56th minute, before Rasmus Elm leveled the scores with an 84th-minute penalty.

The decision of the disciplinary committee to punish Zenit came in response to an incident in the Nov. 17 league match between FC Dinamo Moscow and Zenit in Moscow’s Khimki Arena, which was stopped in the 38th minute by the referee and abandoned after a firecracker thrown from the stands hit and injured Dinamo goalkeeper Anton Shunin, who sustained injuries to his eye and ear as a result.

The firecracker was thrown from a sector allocated to Zenit supporters, but the identity of the perpetrator has not yet been determined, despite a police investigation of video evidence and the interrogation of 53 fans directly after the game. According to sports newspaper Sport Express, a police source has confirmed that it was an unidentified young woman who threw the firecracker.

Police from Moscow’s Khimki municipal district, where the abandoned match took place, have arrived in St. Petersburg to assist local police investigating the incident in identifying the woman, Interfax reported.

In an official statement, Zenit said that Dinamo should be held responsible for match safety, as the host club was in charge of selling tickets for the away sector. The identity of fans was not checked during purchasing of tickets to the sector, and searching for dangerous objects such as firecrackers was the responsibility of stadium officials, Zenit said.

“We believe … that responsibility for the incident lies entirely with the home side Dinamo. At the moment there is no evidence that the crime was committed by Zenit fans. The away team is not responsible for the safety of the fans and players according to regulations, and thus should not endure sanctions,” said the statement on the official Zenit website.

Despite this, the committee handed the club a 0-3 default loss for the abandoned fixture against Dinamo and ordered it to play two matches — against the two teams above Zenit in the league table, CSKA Moscow and Anzhi Makhachkala — behind closed doors. Zenit was also ordered to pay a fine of 1.13 million rubles ($36,470). Dinamo, which must also play its Dec. 1 match against FC Rubin Kazan behind closed doors, was issued with a fine of 580,000 rubles ($18,720).

The punishment came at a crucial time in the title race, and presents yet another obstacle to Zenit’s ambition to claim a third successive league title.

The club administration was incensed at the decision, launching an appeal to the disciplinary committee and publicly condemning what it claims to be unfair treatment, going as far as to say it was “considering withdrawing Zenit from the league after the decision of the disciplinary committee,” Fontanka.ru reported, citing a source close to the club.

“Is there any point in participating in a league in which a match can be abandoned due to the fault of one club, but responsibility [for the cancelation] is put on a different club that doesn’t have anything to do with the crime and has no way of preventing it?” the club said in an official statement before the hearing.

Alexei Miller, head of gas behemoth Gazprom, which sponsors Zenit, echoed the seriousness of the statement in an interview published on Zenit’s website.

“Many people think that we could play in a CIS championship, and I am also a firm supporter of the idea,” he said.

“If the time comes to create this new league, we will act and take well thought-through steps, coming to an agreement with those people who support the aim of creating the championship,” he added.

“This conversation has been ongoing in the past few days, and the answer is positive — we may play in a different league,” Miller said when asked about the possibility of Zenit’s withdrawal from the Russian Premier League.

Zenit is due to play Anzhi Makhachkala behind closed doors at the Petrovsky Stadium on Dec. 10.

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