Welliton's Punishment Sees The Russian Premier League Hotting Up

Welliton of FC Spartak Moscow in action during the Russian Football League Championship match between FC Spartak Moscow and FC Rostov Rostov-on-Don at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Dmitry Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images)

Eastern Europe expert Eliot Rothwell runs through the controversy surrounding Spartak striker Welliton's injury of CSKA and Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and the Brazilians subsequent punishment.

The Russian Premier League returns this week and for all those domestic fans who tired of seeing the national team waste chance after chance on Tuesday, the action is really hotting up. 

This week, other than the two international fixtures against Macedonia and Ireland, the Russian press has been dominated firstly by the reaction to Spartak striker Welliton's challenge on CSKA and Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev in the last round of fixtures and secondly the punishment the Control and Disciplinary Committee saw fit to dish out to the Brazilian. 

The challenge - which you can see here to form your own judgements - left Akinfeev in pain, but not so much pain that he couldn't direct a torrent of verbal anger at Welliton from the stretcher that was carrying him off the Luzhniki pitch. Welliton - at the time - was shown a yellow card by the referee and the match then continued after Akinfeev had been substituted for stand-in Chepchugov. Akinfeev's pain, it seems, was justified as after the gripping 2-2 draw had ended it was announced that he would be out for up to six months with a broken cruciate ligament. This is when the knives were really drawn for the striker.

The media, including popular publication and website SovSport, reacted by creating live, rolling coverage of the aftermath of the incident and the news that Akinfeev would miss the two national team fixtures just passed. As each Russian player arrived in the Motherland ahead of the fixtures, they were quizzed on the challenge and the punishment they thought should be given to Welliton. 

With former players, managers and pundits each suggesting different things, the incident was left to the Control and Disciplinary Committee to mull over whilst Russia focused on the national team, with CSKA, Zenit and Dinamo all writing to the committee to ask for severe punishment. The general feeling was that a suspension of a couple of games would be a sufficient but still quite harsh punishment on the Brazilian striker but his past  (he injured Dinamo 'keeper Vladimir Gabulov in a similar collision two years ago) seems to have counted against him.

Still, when the committee announced that Welliton would be forced to miss out six games - baring in mind the referee only saw fit to issue him a yellow card at the time - there was genuine disbelief and a great deal of anger from Spartak and their fans. That disbelief was compounded by the fact that Vladimir Katkov, head of the committee, said: "if it was an intentional injury, the punishment would have been a seven-game ban, but we chose this punishment, because there was no intent." Meaning that they have, essentially, banned the striker for six games for something they have concluded he didn't mean to do. Still following this? No neither am I.

The apparent logic behind this ban is the new legislation passed by the Russian Football Union that states that if the player has committed rough play that has caused an injury to a player and has been guilty of such a crime before then the punishment will be doubled. That's all well and good but when a similar incident occurred two years ago, Welliton wasn't punished by the authorities. 

Naturally Spartak have come out fighting, promising to appeal the decision and lambasting Dinamo and Zenit for calling for severe sanctions. A club statement reads: "What have Dinamo and Zenit got to do with it? What kind of corporate fix-up is it that substitutes sporting principles? Or are disciplinary sanctions now given out by clubs' orders? Or maybe by orders of those who stand behind them." Spartak, as you can imagine, are not the only party now pointing to an anti-Spartak conspiracy between the RFU and the Premier League' clubs. 

The last voice to speak out in all this appears to be the player himself who granted and interview with SovSport on Friday the 9th of September, believes the decision made by the RFU is "a political decision that has nothing to do with football" and cites the fact that Zenit are due to play Spartak on the 2nd of October, whilst Welliton will now having sixteen days left of his lengthy ban remaining instead of competing. 

Asked how he thinks a possible appeal will be successful, the Spartak player remains in sombre mood: "I think not. But I want to believe in justice."

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