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Russia fears freezing out top players

Concerns over games in freezing Far East can hurt national team stars

Gulf News

Moscow: Loud calls grew in Russia on Tuesday to cancel table-topping Lokomotiv Moscow’s upcoming away match in the country’s freezing Far East to protect the health of national squad players.

Lokomotiv are due to cross eight time zones to play last-place SKA Khabarovsk in their 15,200-seat Lenin Stadium on Monday.

Khabarovsk’s first promotion to top flight Russian football has given an unexpected headache to the bigger clubs just as the nation prepares to host the World Cup on June 14-July 15.

The Russian squad is made up almost entirely of domestic players and at least four are expected to come from Lokomotiv.

Parliament’s deputy speaker Igor Lebedev — a sport fanatic who sits on the Russian Football Union’s executive committee — said forcing teams to travel to the other side of the world’s largest country and play in Artic weather was “a travesty”.

“The upcoming SKA Khabarovsk match against Lokomotiv will be a travesty for all of Russian football,” Lebedev told the sports news site.

“It abuses players and fans to an even greater extent.”

His comments came after CSKA Moscow — last season’s Russian Premier League runners-up — played in Khabarovsk on Saturday in temperatures hovering around -15 degrees Celsius.

“We have to remember that Lokomotiv and CSKA Moscow represent our country in European cups, and they comprise a large part of our national squad,” said Lebedev.

“You cannot come out on the pitch in such weather.”

The Premier League said it was monitoring weather conditions but not expecting temperatures to be any colder than they were at the CSKA Moscow match. The European football governing body Uefa allows referees to call off matches if temperatures drop to below -15 Celsius at kickoff.

SKA Khabarovsk’s Argentine halfback Alejandro Barbaro said playing in the Russian winter was a somewhat shocking experience.

“It was not easy — not in the least bit,” he told Russia’s main football channel.

“In the last 10 minutes of the match, I could not feel my arms or legs,” Barbaro admitted.

Lokomotiv’s coach Yury Syomin also did not sound particularly enthusiastic about risking his players’ health.

“After CSKA played their match in that horrendous weather, two of their players got injured,” Syomin told Russian media.

“We have to create conditions in which football players can be at their best and not damage their health.”

“As a [former] player myself, I find this unacceptable.”

Russian national team doctor Eduard Bezuglov said players who were forced out on the pitch in such conditions risked coming down with bronchitis and “choking spells”.

“Games played at -15 or -20 Celsius may no longer be called football,” Bezuglov told the Sport Express paper ahead of the CSKA Moscow match.

“It is an entirely different sport.”

The Russian Premier League takes a three-month winter break starting in December.