Politics off menu as Russia and Ukraine clash in ring
MOSCOW - The Russian and Ukrainian amateur boxing teams kept their fighting for inside the ring when they met in a high profile World Series of Boxing (WSB) first leg quarter-final clash in Moscow on Monday.
The Russians won the first leg 4-1, the second leg is due to be contested in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Friday, but both teams refrained from making any political statements either before or after the match.
The Ukrainian Otamans, whose team line-up featured a Belarus and Uzbek fighter, face a tough battle to emulate last year's performance when they finished runners-up.
The contest had become the focus of attention ever since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula earlier this month in response to the fall in February of the Moscow-backed president in Kiev.
Despite concerns the political crisis may turn the match into a political demonstration the governing body the International Boxing Association (AIBA) decided that both legs of the quarter-final will be staged on a home and away basis.
"This decision has been made based on the main principle of the Olympic movement, which is that sport should always be dealt with outside of politics," a statement read.
The organisers did everything in their power to avoid any controversy, cancelling the pre-match news conference to protect the boxers from potentially awkward questions from the journalists.
Eduard Kravtsov, the Russian boxing team manager also said he believed the two-leg match would be all about the boxing.
"Of course the political relations between Russia and Ukraine are currently much more tense than they were before and it's silly to deny it," he told AFP.
"But I believe that even in case the political crisis has created some specific atmosphere around this match it will never affect its sporting side or the refereeing of the bouts.
"I also believe that the boxers and all the teams' members should stay out of politics. We are set to win this match but our desire is normal for any atlete and has no deal with politics by any means."
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian team's supporters, who came to Arena Moscow, expressed a hope their boxers will earn a place in the WSB semi-final.
"We came here to support our team," the 28-year-old Alexander Tirenko, who came to Russia in search of a living from Ukrainian town of Sumy, told AFP.
"We hope Otamans (the name of the team) will make it into the semi-finals. After a series of losses Ukraine needs to win just something."
Ukrainian boxer Nikolai Butsenko, who lost his bout in the 56kg category, also didn't wish to talk about the political backdrop to the contest.
"Let's leave politics to the politicians," Butsenko told AFP after the bout.
"Our business is boxing and we're concentrated on it completely. Like any of my teammates I have great respect not only for our Russian rivals but for all of our opponents as well. We wanted to win but today it was just not our day."
The winner of this quarter-final will face the winner of the other last eight match between USA Knockouts and Cuba Domadores.
The semi-final first leg will be held on April 25 in either Russia or Ukraine, and second leg on May 2 in either the USA or Cuba.
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