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Tajik Soccer Players Get With The Program

Games between Tajik soccer teams Istiqlol Dushanbe and Ravshan Kulob have often been bad-tempered affairs.
Games between Tajik soccer teams Istiqlol Dushanbe and Ravshan Kulob have often been bad-tempered affairs.
The Tajik soccer community has been set abuzz with the news that 25 players and other members of the popular Ravshan Kulob club have joined the country's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDPT) in a special ceremony.

It's a move that has surprised many, given the fact that the first-division club has landed itself in hot water with the authorities in the past.

In April, the Football Federation of Tajikistan (FFT) imposed suspensions and fines on several Ravshan players for what it described as unruly behavior during a 1-0 victory over Istiqlol Dushanbe.

It was a move that outraged the club's fans, who said the decision was biased and had more to do their team having the temerity to defeat Istiqlol, a club founded by President Emomali Rahmon’s eldest son, Rustam Emomali.

Their sense of injustice was compounded by the fact that, less than a year previously, Ravshan had been sanctioned by the FFT after its fans rioted following another match against Istiqlol. (The club's supporters had been incensed by the referee allowing a questionable late goal that handed victory to their Dushanbe nemesis.)

Since then, it's fair to say that there has been no love lost between the two clubs or their supporters.

That could be all about to change, however, now that so many Ravshan personnel have been welcomed into the Rahmon fold.

Besides helping to smooth over difficulties between two fierce football rivals, this political conversion could also help keep things sweet in the Rahmon clan.

Tajik media have recently linked Ravshan Kulob to the president's wealthy son-in-law, Muhammad-zohir Sohibov, who owns a private trade company and a lucrative city bazaar in the southern Khatlon Province.

Meanwhile, officials from the ruling party have taken the trouble to insist that the footballers' decision to join the PDPT was purely "voluntary."

-- Coilin O'Connor with contributions from RFE/RL's Tajik Service

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