Former Fulham and Reading striker Pavel Pogrebnyak’s comment that it is “laughable” to have black players in the Russia national team has been blasted by president Vladimir Putin’s human rights adviser.
Mikhail Fedotov, head of the presidential Human Rights Council said the comments made by Pogrebnyak, who made 33 appearances for Russia between 2006-12, “smacked of racism”.
“I believe that any football player who plays well and has Russian citizenship has a right to represent the Russian national side,” Fedotov told the TV channel Moscow 360.
“The colour of their skin, eyes, hair and everything else has no significance. This should be obvious to anyone,” he added.
In an interview with tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, Pogrebnyak said he was opposed to the recent trend of non-Russian players receiving Russian passports with the view to representing the country in international matches.
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The 35-year-old picked out examples of Brazilian-born pair Mario Fernandes, who plays for CSKA Moscow, and Ariclenes da Silva Ferreira (Ari), who is a Krasnodar player.
“I don’t see the point of this. I do not understand at all why Ari received a Russian passport,” he said. “It is laughable when a black player represents the Russian national side.
“Mario Fernandes is a top player. But we also have Igor Smolnikov in his position. We could make do without foreigners as well.”
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Pogrebnyak could face a ten-match ban for his comments according to Russian website sports.ru.
And the deputy anti-discrimination officer for the Russian Football Union says it will be looking at possible punishment for Pogrebnyak, who plays for Russian top flight club Ural Yekaterinburg.
The player has sought to clarify his comments since, telling Sport24 that he has played abroad and respects “all players without exception”.
“I do not have anything against black players,” said Pogrebnyak , who also played for Stuttgart in Germany.
“In the interview I voiced my strictly personal opinion that in the Russian national side I would like to see footballers who were born and raised in our country. That is all. I did not mean to insult anyone.”
Ural Yekaterinburg’s president, Grigory Ivanov, has said the team will stand by Pogrebnyak, and claimed most Russian players would share his views.
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