Vienna, November 16 – Football matches in Russia have often been marked by clashes between fans of rival ethnic communities, but in what represents an effort to inoculate against the appearance of such fights among religious groups, Russian Orthodox and Muslim groups organized a “friendly” competition between teams representing the two religions.
On Saturday, the two teams met in what one Moscow newspaper inaccurately called the first such match in the history of the country -- In fact, a year ago teams representing the Danilov Monastery and the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR) competed, with the former defeating the latter 10 to 2 – and the Muslims won 5 to 3 (www.newsru.com/religy/16nov2009/match.html).
Marat Arslanov, the deputy head of the SMR’s Social-Charity Affairs Department which organized the Muslim team, said he was “very glad [the Muslims] were able to take revenge for the defeat a year ago,” adding that “in reality, friendship [rather than either team] won, 1 to 1
Speaking for the Orthodox Christians, Archdeacon Varakhiil said that football was “the favorite game of believers,” regardless of their religion. And he said that while “the spirit of competition can harm relations between religions, “competition on the field only strengthens the friendship” between Russia’s Christians and Russia’s Muslims.
And after announcing that the “religious” teams would meet again, Varakhiil added that he didn’t know who would win next year – after all the Muslim and Christian teams are tied one to one so far – but that he was sure that “on the whole we already have won since football has brought Orthodox and Muslim together.”
But not everyone was as pleased by this competition or as convinced that it could lead only to good things as the two representatives on the sidelines. One Moscow commentator suggested that such competition could lead people to believe that there should be “Orthodox football players” and “Muslim football players” and thus be even more deeply divided.
In his view, Vladimir Khomyakov continued, within Russia at least, “Orthodox Christian faithful and Muslim believers should play together on the same football teams, all the more so because,” at least according to him, “[Orthodox and Muslim] have already been doing so for 500 to 600 years” (www.rus-obr.ru/opinions/4695).