April 15, 2016 / 1:22 PM / 2 years ago

Crimea seeks national soccer team, but doesn't want to offend

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Football authorities in Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, said on Friday they would like to form their own national team, but a Russian sports official recoiled from a notion that could upset at a stroke Russian national sentiment, Western powers, Ukraine and global soccer bodies.

Crimean Football Union (CFU) President Yuri Vetokha said a side representing the peninsula, whose seizure from Ukraine triggered Western economic sanctions, could be ready by May and that he would be “delighted if it could play against Russia”.

But in comments betraying sensitivity and disarray over Crimea’s status following the annexation, he added: ”The main thing is not to cause harm to anyone...Things are very difficult for us, but we are hoping for things to be better.

“We are fighting for only one thing - who can we play against?” he told TASS news agency in an interview. “Our status at the moment is scaring everyone.”

The hesitancy of the comments underline a growing sense of abandonment in a sporting region that had given the Soviet Union and then Ukraine some of its best players.

The idea of a Crimean national team could stir anger in Moscow where many might see it as implying the peninsula has a status somewhere short of a fully integrated part of the Russian Federation.

Vetokha said Crimea could play a friendly match with Abkhazia, another territory in the soccer wilderness, having broken from Georgia with Moscow’s backing.

”I know they want to play matches with Abkhazia,“ Senior Vice President of the Russian Football Union Nikita Simonyan told Reuters in a telephone interview. ”But how can Crimea play against Russia?

“This is a political question. We are not prepared to discuss this at the moment.”

Kiev, which along with Western powers refuses to recognize the annexation, would see creation of a Crimean national team as a violation of international legalities. The global soccer body FIFA could also be drawn into an ensuing dispute.

In December 2014, the European soccer body UEFA banned Crimean clubs from participating in the Russian league from January 1 2015. It declared Crimea “a special zone”, effectively putting the matter on ice pending a political settlement.

Reporting By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy; editing by Ralph Boulton

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