Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russian Soccer Stars Face The Boot Over 'Drunken Brawl'

Aleksandr Kokorin (left) and Pavel Mamayev are said to be longtime friends.

Two high-profile Russian soccer players are under investigation for involvement in the separate beatings of a government official and the driver of a state television presenter in Moscow.

Aleksandr Kokorin, who plays for the leading Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg, and Pavel Mamayev, of Krasnodar FC, are reported to have attacked a Trade Ministry official in a Moscow cafe on October 8 after he complained about their group's behavior.

Members of the group were also caught on video taking part in a street brawl in which the TV presenter's driver was reportedly injured.

Moscow police said on October 9 that they had opened two criminal probes, according to the Interfax news agency, and the incidents have been condemned by both Russian soccer and government officials.

Both Kokorin and Mamayev have played on the Russian national team and have been dogged by controversy in the past. Kokorin -- who has played nearly 50 times as an international -- was on the team as recently as 2014, but missed the 2018 FIFA World Cup hosted by Russia due to injury. Mamayev was last on the Russian national team for Euro 2016

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin was monitoring events and was sure Russian law enforcement would handle the case properly. "Definitely, like the entire country, we have taken notice of this. You yourselves have seen the quite despicable videos that have been published," Peskov told journalists on October 9.

There have been quite a lot of witnesses to the incidents, so "law enforcement agencies will have no problem whatsoever determining the circumstances of this case," he added.

Video of the cafe incident uploaded on the YouTube channel Breaking Mash appears to show Kokorin, Mamayev, and their friends involved in a heated dispute with a seated cafe patron identified as Trade Ministry official Denis Pak. At one point Pak, who sought medical assistance before reporting the incident to police, is seen being struck with a chair.

Staffers at the cafe said the two players, reportedly longtime friends, appeared to be intoxicated, according to Russian sports daily Sports Express. The sports daily added that Kokorin and Mamayev had traveled by train from St. Petersburg, where their clubs had clashed in a Russian Premier League game on October 7.

In video -- since deleted -- apparently captured following the cafe incident, members of Kokorin and Mamayev's group were seen in a physical altercation with a man on the street. The video showed members of the group punching and kicking a man.

This victim was later identified as Viktor Kolovyev, the driver of Olga Ushakova, a top TV presenter at state-controlled Channel One.

Breaking Mash later uploaded video showing Kolovyev in the hospital. His eyes are bruised and swollen, and his nose bandaged.

'A Shadow On The Whole Sport'

Officials and organizations quickly lined up to condemn the players' alleged behavior.

Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said the scandal cast a shadow across "the entire Russian soccer world," coming months after Russia was widely praised for its hosting of the FIFA World Cup, capped by the national team's improbable run to the quarterfinals.

"This is an outrageous incident that casts a shadow on the entire sport, the entire soccer world. Especially after our national team performed excellently at the World Cup," Kolobkov said on Rossia-24 (VGTRK) television on October 9.

The Russian Premier League -- Russia's top tier, in which both St. Petersburg and Krasnodar play -- condemned the players and warned they could face "severe" punishment.

"The Russian Premier League expresses its outrage and strongly condemns their [the players'] rowdy behavior," the league said in a statement on October 9. "This act not only casts a shadow over the glorious names of FC Zenit and FC Krasnodar, but all of Russian football," it said. "We believe that those responsible should be punished in the most severe way. There is no place for hooligans in football!"

Krasnodar said it wanted to part ways with Mamayev as soon as possible. "We are currently looking into how to terminate a contract with the player," FC Krasnodar said in a statement on October 9.

"Unfortunately, contracts are drawn up in such a way that they protect professional athletes to the greatest possible extent," it added. "But we will do everything to get it done."

"What we saw in the video is outrageous," Krasnodar said.

FC Zenit said Kokorin, 27, would be disciplined pending the outcome of the police investigation. "But currently, Zenit management and fans are feeling nothing but disappointment that one of the country's most talented footballers behaved in a disgusting manner," the club said in a statement on October 9.

Aleksandr Kokorin (left, top row) has scored 12 goals in 48 matches for his country, but sat out this year's World Cup with a knee injury.
Aleksandr Kokorin (left, top row) has scored 12 goals in 48 matches for his country, but sat out this year's World Cup with a knee injury.

It's not the first time the pair has come in for public opprobrium for their behavior.

The Russian Football Union suspended the two in July 2016 after a video emerged showing the two partying hard, spending a reported 250,000 euros ($286,000) on champagne at a Monte Carlo nightclub.

Kokorin later apologized for his behavior and was welcomed back to the national team.

He has scored 12 goals in 48 matches for his country, but sat out this year's World Cup with a knee injury.

  • 16x9 Image

    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.