Rangers risk five-year ban to put safety first

By Patrick Cockburn,Nick Harris
Thursday 27 February 2014 04:53
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Rangers will not travel to war-torn Dagestan for tomorrow's Uefa Cup first-round tie against the Russian club, Anzhi Makhackala, and were last night awaiting a court ruling over whether they will face sanctions from Uefa, football's European governing body, for refusing to do so.

Uefa told Rangers yesterday morning that the tie must go ahead as planned, despite explicit advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the region is dangerous. "Our advice is not to travel to this area," an FCO spokeswoman said. "Those who travel to this part of Russia are taking serious risks, and must accept that the ability of the FCO and the British Embassy in Moscow to render assistance is severely limited."

Uefa said the decision to go ahead with the match followed written confirmation on Monday that Rangers had both their insurance cover and travel arrangements in place. Uefa had made special arrangements for a secure landing slot for Rangers' chartered jet and extra security for the team. "We are therefore unable to grant the club's request for a relocation of the tie," a Uefa spokesman said.

The spokesman added that sanctions against Rangers for failing to play the match could theoretically include disqualification from this year's tournament, a fine and a ban on playing in Uefa tournaments for between two and five years.

"The club are ready to play Anzhi anywhere other than the Dagestan capital and have now confirmed that they will not travel to Makhachkala under the current circumstances," a statement from Ibrox said. The Rangers chairman, David Murray, added: "Having fully considered the decision from Uefa this morning, Rangers have responded confirming the current position that taking full consideration of all the advice available to the club, a team cannot at this time be sent to Makhachkala for safety reasons.

"We have advised Uefa that, although our travel plans, which were originally for travel today have been cancelled, we could still be in a position to travel tomorrow to participate in the match assuming a safe venue can be confirmed. We have been advised by Uefa that no further appeal is available although we have requested them to reconsider their decision."

Rangers have referred the issue to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. The Court is an independent body which has resolved sporting arguments for almost 20 years. A rapid ruling was being anticipated in Glasgow last night.

Moving matches due to potential security problems has been common in the past. Rangers themselves had a Uefa Cup tie against the Irish team, Shelbourne moved to Tranmere three years ago over concerns of potential sectarian violence in Dublin. Two years ago, Leeds had a match against Partizan Belgrade moved to the Netherlands due to the troubles in Yugoslavia.

Dagestan, sandwiched between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, has the reputation in Russia, of being a very dangerous place. Its 34 different ethnic groups who make up the 2.1m population are engaged in full-time rivalry.

The political and criminal élite in Dagestan are closely allied. In addition, the war in Chechnya periodically spills across its border, most notably in 1999 when Chechens invaded Dagestan to aid Islamic rebels.

An apartment block housing Russian soldiers and their families was blown up with heavy casualties. Seven members of the Dagestan parliament have been murdered including the former finance minister. Law enforcement has been largely paralysed in the face of organised crime both in the countryside and the capital Makhachkala. It is often difficult to distinguish between political and purely criminal actions. On 4 September there was an explosion on the main railway line between Dagestan and Moscow. This was probably political. It was followed on 9 September by a bomb planted in a Mercedes car belonging to the owner of a café in central Makhachkala. Two people were seriously injured.

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