President of Estonian Meistriliiga club FCI Levadia Tallinn Viktor Levada, has made a personal statement in response to the recent photo scandal involving several current and former Estonian international footballers. Levada, who is Ukrainian, said that seeing the picture had left him feeling hurt.
Over the New Year holidays, members of the Estonian men's national football team past and present attended a social gathering with Russian head coach Valeri Karpin. Levada, who is Ukrainian, said that it had been painful to see people he knows in the photograph, which was posted on social media.
"When I saw the photo of people I know, it hurt," said Levada.
"Everyone sitting with Valeri Karpin in the photo is smiling happily! I am absolutely sure, that at this moment in time, it is unacceptable. Russia is an aggressor state, which is destroying Ukrainian cities and destroying the Ukrainian people. It is a terrorist state. Right now, I associate Karpin with the aggressor, because he is the head coach of the (Russian) national team," Levada said.
Levada added, that he planned to discuss the incident with those connected to FCI Levadia who attended the dinner separately. The club's ex-sporting director and former national team goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko, left back and winger Dmitri Kruglov, who left Levadia for Mardu Linnameeskond in 2021, and current first team reserve goalkeeper Artur Kotenko all appeared in the photo.
Pareiko specified to Delfi Sport that he had left FCI Levadia just before Christmas, and did not wish to comment on the dinner. "There has been so much talk about it. I have nothing to add," Pareiko said. Both Kotenko and Kruglov also declined to comment on the issue.
The dinner was also attended by Estonian men's national team all-time leading goalscorer Andres Oper, as well as current captain Konstantin Vassiljev and striker Sergei Zenjov. The trio issued a public apology via an Estonian Football Association (EJL) press release on Wednesday. On Friday, Oper gave further comments on the issue to news outlets Delphi and Eesti Päevaleht.
"My beliefs and convictions are firm and I am loyal to Estonia in every respect. Participating in the dinner did not have an influence on my attitude in any way," said Oper.
"I repeat, that the situation was not appropriate. However, at the same time, it cannot be that people who are in the same picture together share the same attitudes. (Such) people still take pictures together, and unfortunately, at the time, I didn't consider what the consequences (of this) might be," he said, adding that he was unaware that Andrei Stepanov, who had invited him to the gathering, would post the picture on social media.
Levada's full statement is available (in Estonian) on Soccernet here.
Editor: Michael Cole