DUSHANBE – The Football Federation of Tajikistan (FFT) has taken disciplinary action for the second time in less than a year against one of the country’s most popular soccer teams, triggering furious reaction from supporters of the club.
The FFT’s disciplinary committee says it imposed the sanctions on April 24 against five players of Ravshan Kulob for unruly behavior during a match last week against Istiqlol Dushanbe.
But critics say the decision was biased and accuse soccer authorities of punishing the team, based in the southern city of Kulob, for having defeated the club founded by President Emomali Rahmon’s eldest son, Rustam Emomali.
"I played several years on the Tajik national team. I recently was transferred from the Regar Tadaz team to Ravshan and wanted to do my best but they set a trap for me," said Ravshan captain Safarali Karimov, who received the harshest sanction.
"They want to destroy me. It is difficult to miss games for two months. I played for five years in Regar Tadaz and never received a red card. They should check the history of a player when they want to punish him."
Ravshan defeated Istiqlol 1-0 in the Premier League championship’s third-round match on April 19.
Right after the game, Istiqlol’s head coach, Nikola Kavazovich, accused the Ravshan team of playing in a "very rude and mean" manner. Kavazovich said one of his players, Aleksandr Kudryashov, was "broken" by the experience.
The FFT’s Control and Disciplinary Committee suspended Karimov for five matches and fined him more than $1,000 for inflicting serious injury to an opponent.
Another player, Benjamin Amankva, who received two yellow cards during the match, was suspended for one game and fined $100.
Three other players -- Hasan Rustamov, Eradj Holov, and Maruf Rustamov -- were fined $100 each for unethical, improper, and unsportsmanlike conduct during the match.
Ravshan's club chairman, Bahrom Rustamov, criticized the decisions at a press conference.
"In the first half [of the match], Istiqlol players also played violently but the referee did not punish them," he said. "The federation punished our coach because he touched the hand of the referee, but Istiqlol players did worse things and nobody penalized them."
Jamshed, a Ravshan fan, slammed the match referee for being unfair. "I think we have to blame the referee for all that violence, because he exasperated Ravshan players with his bias and they became angry," he said.
Hundreds of irate fans also posted comments about the match on the website of RFE/RL's Tajik Service.
Umed from Dushanbe wrote that the FFT should be "ashamed." He accused Istiqlol founder Rustam Emomali of using his position at the helm of the federation "to crush teams that defeat Istiqlol on the pitch."
A History Of Violence
This month's match was not the first time Ravshan Kulob was sanctioned after a match with Istiqlol Dushanbe.
In June 2011, Ravshan supporters rioted after their team lost to Istiqlol. Ravshan fans accused the referee of favoring Istiqlol to the point of allowing a questionable late goal that gave Istiqlol a key win.
Ravshan supporters attacked referees and police before turning on the Istiqlol team bus and players' cars.
Some 40 Ravshan fans were detained by police and the FFT’s disciplinary committee fined the club more than $550.
Additionally, the FFT disqualified the team from playing its next five home games. Instead they had to play in a stadium some 100 kilometers outside of Kulob.
Istiqlol won the national championship in both 2010 and 2011 with Rustam Emomali, who is considered to be one of the most influential people in Tajikistan, playing forward.
The 24-year-old Emomali was then elected as FFT president in January of this year.
He was also named a member of the development committee of FIFA, world football's governing body, in February. Additionally, he represents Tajikistan at the Olympic Council of Asia.
Over the years, Emomali has also held several official posts, including being a member of the Dushanbe city council, a department head in the State Customs Committee, and an adviser to the Committee on Investment and State Property
Since taking over his new post at the head of the FFT, he no longer has any official connection to the Istiqlol club.
RFE/RL correspondents Iskander Aliev and Antoine Blua contributed to this report from Prague