Armenian Soccer Champs Refuse to Play Azeri Team

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s leading soccer club refused to play against a team from Azerbaijan Thursday in the semi-final of an annual soccer tournament held in Moscow–citing organizers’ failure to guarantee the security of its players and fans.

FC Pyunik Yerevan–which has won the Armenian soccer championships for the past four years–and Neftchi from Baku were scheduled to face off in the CIS Cup on Saturday for the second time in just over a year. Their previous game–won by Neftchi–was marred by brawls between rival players and fans.

"Failing to receive appropriate written guarantees–the management of the Pyunik club decided not to participate in the game in order not to politicize it and to avoid any provocations with unpredictable and dangerous consequences for fans–players–and members of the Armenian community," the club said in a statement.

Pyunik vice-president–Karen Harutiunian said his players heard threats to their life from Azeri fans present at the Pyunik’s game on Wednesday with Ukrainian champs Shakhtar Donetsk. "In any event–similar statemen’s were immediately posted on all Russian-language Azeri news websites," he told reporters in Yerevan.

But a spokesman for the organizing committee of the Moscow tournament–said security at the game would have been tight enough. In a statement–Andrey Malasolov said as many as 1,500 Russian police were due to be deployed at the indoor Olympiisky stadium–the venue of the Pyunik-Neftchi fixture–to prevent a repeat of last year’s trouble.

Harutiunian dismissed the statement–saying that it was issued after Pyunik players and coaching staff left the Russian capital for Yerevan.

The Armenian team performed unexpectedly well at the latest Moscow tournament–beating Shakhtar 3-1 to enter the semi-final round against Neftchi.

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