Estonian national and club team football team players have issued a statement apologizing for appearing in a photo posted on social media New Year's Eve in which they appeared with current Russian national team manager Valeri Karpin, and were apparently seeing in 2023.
Controversy arose since Karpin has made pro-Vladimir Putin statements in the past, and supported the 2014 annexation of Crimea, in addition to the context of the current invasion of Ukraine, starting in February last year.
The joint statement read: "We are sorry for the situation and we apologize to everyone whose feelings were hurt by our dinner and the publication of a photo of that on social media," and was issued by national team captain Konstantin Vassiljev and Sergei Zenjov (both of Flora Tallinn), plus Levadia assistant coach Andres Oper.
"Our conversation only covered football, we didn't talk about politics or war," the statement, via a press release issued by the Estonian FA, continued.
"Our position regarding the [Ukraine] war has always been the same - there is no justification for it. We have always stood up for Estonia on and off the football pitch, and we will continue to do so."
An Estonian football fan association, MTÜ Jalgpallihaigla, similarly hit out at the photo, in which current and past Estonian players sat at a table in apparently jovial mode along with Karpin, a native of Narva, and which appeared on the social media account of a former player.
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Minister of Culture Piret Hartman (SDE) also condemned the snap, earlier on Wednesday.
She said: "Culture and sport have so far been areas where international cooperation has taken place in spite of all the political winds. However, right now, the situation has changed radically."
Sport organization in Estonia falls under the culture ministry's remit.
"There is war going on in the heart of Europe, and we must do everything we can in order not to support the aggressor, ie. Russia," the minister continued.
"Good sportspeople – someone who still considers us a Soviet country (ie. Karpin – ed.) and belongs to the sporting elite of the aggressor state is not someone to present oneself in consort with. You need to perceive what messages that will give to the public. Our goal must be to reduce the position of the aggressor state in all areas of life."
Aivar Pohlak, president of the Estonian FA, struck a more equivocal tone, however, telling portal Delfi earlier in the week (link in Estonian) that: "At the public level, it is our duty not only to show compassion and help to those suffering, but also to think about not losing key human rights, including the right to be acquainted with differently-minded people and the right to meet them."
"The continuation of interpersonal communication, friendship and love despite the circumstances is an inevitable prerequisite for the world to return to normality," Pohlak went on.
Konstantin Vassiljev said that the episode likely made some people feel uneasy, while the growth of the story was not something anyone appearing in the photo had wanted, despite its being posted on social media, while greater discretion would be applied in such matters in future, he said.
"Various people have given their assessments, and each person has the opportunity to assess it as they want. The controversy that has arisen is not beneficial for us, or for our society," Vassiljev added.
Estonian football portal Soccernet.ee, who broke the story, reposted the photo on the same day it appeared (link in Estonian) and noted that, while Karpin has spoken of football's potential to bring people together, he has also in the past praised Vladimir Putin and expressed support for the 2014 annexation of Crimea. "For me, it's still one country – the Soviet Union," Karpin said at the time.
Karpin, from Narva, was appointed Russian national team manager in May 2021.
Former national player and current agent Andrei Stepanov posted the photo on his social media account New Year's eve, where he, Karpin, Vassilyev, Zenjov and Oper were joined at the table by former players Artur Kotenko, Sergei Pareiko, Aleksandr Dmitrijev and Jevgeni Novikov current Levadia center-back Igor Morozov and others.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Siim Boikov, Janno Joala
Source: ERR Sport, Soccernet