As soccer’s 2018 World Cup in Russia nears its opening match tomorrow (June 14), local singer and comedian Semen Slepakov triggered controversy with an online video for a song suggesting that Chechnya’s authoritarian leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, be named the Russian soccer squad’s coach.
Released on Monday (June 11), the video for the song, “Ole, Ole, Ole,” has generated over 5 million views on YouTube to date. Many social media users appreciated its comic treatment of the Russian squad’s poor showing in recent exhibition matches under current coach Stanislav Cherchesov.
“The guys are playing so poorly that I can’t even find words to describe it,” sings Slepakov, “Who can help us in the short term? Who can make us champions? My suggestion is: Ramzan Kadyrov.”
The name of the head of Chechnya, Russia’s republic in the North Caucasus region, is by no means random. Kadyrov is known as an ardent soccer fan and patron of the local squad Akhmat, which plays in the Russian league’s top tier. On several occasions, he’s hosted all-star soccer matches in Chechnya’s capital, Grozny.
Just days ago, Kadyrov was pictured with Mohamed Salah, the star of Egypt’s national squad, which chose Chechnya as its World Cup training base. International human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, criticized the photo as “pure sportswashing,” reminding of Chechnya’s poor human rights record.
Meanwhile, Chechnya’s authorities were less than amused with Slepakov’s suggestion that Kadyrov should be at the helm of the Russian team.
Dzhambulat Umarov, Chechnya’s minister for national policy, foreign relations, print and information, was quoted by news agency RIA Novosti as saying that the song was “in poor taste” and making fun of the players just days before the World Cup kicks off is unpatriotic. He called on the singer to apologize before the players and Kadyrov.
Kadyrov himself, however, was much more benevolent and suggested Slepakov visit Chechnya, so that they could compose another song together.
The World Cup is to run in Russia’s 11 cities from June 14 to July 15. In the opening game on Thursday, Russia is taking on Saudi Arabia.