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An escalating situation between Russia and Turkey, with football’s role in politics

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he growing level of distrust and national animosity between Russia and Turkey has become a major concern for world leaders, with international relations between Moscow and Ankara as frosty now as at any time in the recent memory.

The downing of a Russian fighter by the Turkish military has led to economic sanctions, veiled threats and a growing feeling that a politically charged situation is escalating to a state that benefits no-one and threatens peace.

Sport and politics can never be truly segregated and it appears that in this instance the two will go hand-in-hand.

From a footballing perspective, the stand-off has and seemingly will continue to have ramifications.

Following the high-profile incident, Moscow’s sports ministry banned their football clubs from signing Turkish players, while plans for Russian teams to have mid-season breaks in the European country have been put on ice.

The highest profile Turkish player currently in the Russian game is Rubin Kazan veteran Gökdeniz Karadeniz, who has been playing for his current employers since 2008.

Zenit St Petersburg supporters were urged not to travel to Belgium for their side’s Champions League clash with Ghent, due to the large Turkish diaspora living in the city being seen as a potential environment for fan violence.

As the Europa League draw took place yesterday, onlookers from both countries will have taken keen note of Lokomotiv Moscow being paired with Fenerbahçe.

The Turk Telecom Arena is one of the most imposing places in Europe to play football and it seems that the visit of the Russian side will only add to the vitriol in the stands.

The fixture will now take on a political element, with a threat that the animosity between the countries could spill onto the pitch.

Veteran Turk Gökdeniz Karadeniz plays in Russia for Rubin Kazan

Veteran Turk Gökdeniz Karadeniz plays in Russia for Rubin Kazan

For supporters of the respective sides, careful consideration over attending away games will surely now be urged, with clashes between fans on contrasting sides of the fence having the potential to worsen an already perilously balanced set of circumstances.

The organisers of Euro 2016 will be pleased that the nations were kept apart at Saturday’s draw, with Russia pooled in Group B and Turkey taking a place in Group D.

That said, if the Turks were to overcome the odds and win their group, while Russia finished third in theirs, the teams could meet in the round of 16 in Lens.

With the all-too pertinent threat of terrorism at the tournament after the recent atrocities in Paris, the potential for two significant fan groups causing an international incident is certainly less than ideal for the Euro 2016 organisers.

Turkish fans are likely to be some of the most controversial at the tournament, with a minute’s silence in memory of the Paris victims booed ahead of their national team’s clash with Greece recently.

Just how long and to what extent the political situation will reach remains to be seen, but Russia, and Russian sport in particular, will be in global focus for the 2018 World Cup.

The strained relations between the respective nations have already played a part in some minor setbacks in the hosts’ preparations for the tournament and act as an unwelcome distraction as Russia prepares to have the eyes of the world on it in a couple of years time.

With sport mirroring life and it a passion in both countries, it will be interesting to gauge just how football could have a negative or even conciliatory facet in the political situation.

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