© Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP (main); trecebarras_ Instagram (inset)
How times have changed from when people would pontificate over the ethics of 'punch a Nazi' practices. Now Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky wants to "shake the hand" of far-right linked "patriot" footballer Roman Zozulya.
It seems hostilities towards an ideology that shunted the world backwards by decades, adopted to ensure a repeat will never occur, have not only thawed but melted into warm, fuzzy greetings.Zelensky hailed Ukraine international footballer Zozulya "a patriot" after Spanish fans showered the Albacete midfielder with chants of "You f*cking Nazi!" during a Segunda Division match away to Rayo Vallecano at the weekend, which forced its abandonment.
After the unsavory event, Zelensky took to Facebook to voice his support of the 33-times Ukraine-capped Zozulya.
"Not only does your team support you, but the whole of Ukraine!" the message of support read. "You are not only a great footballer, you are a true patriot who loves his country and helps our military. We are with you! I shake your hand."With such warm words from Zelensky on his verified Facebook page to his 1 million plus followers in response one might wonder why Zozulya evoked such impassioned profanity from the Spanish fans.That's because Zozulya has done things that make him very much like a Nazi.
Zozulya is a figure reviled in football quarters, particularly in Spain, which suffered its own long brutal brush with fascism under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in the middle part of the last century.
Rayo Vallecano hail from the Vallekas commune of Madrid, where Franco's reign began when the capital fell to Nazi-backed Francoist forces after a bloody two-and-a-half year siege.
In 2017, when Zozulya arrived in that same city to join Rayo on loan from La Liga's Real Betis, Rayo's ultras naturally took issue to his alleged links to neo-Nazi groups.
Rayo fans confronted the player with a "Vallekas is not the place for Nazis" banner and Twitter storm was sparked, giving rise to #ZozulyaNotWelcome and #ZozulyaPutoNazi (Zozulya f*cking Nazi) hashtags.Zozulya's posted provocative posts including photographs emphasizing his likeness to an image of Stepan Bandera, the leader of Ukrainian nationalist groups that cooperated with Nazi Germany during World War II. Rayo ultra group Plataforma ADRV issued a statement that Zozulya "donated money to fascist battalions" and "displayed far-right symbols".
The result? Banished from Rayo but unable to return to Betis, Zozulya was left in limbo, but signed for Albacete the following summer with whom he returned to Rayo on Sunday.
Pictures have also surfaced of Zozulya allegedly pointing towards a scoreboards showing a 14-88 score.
It is believed this is a reference to the white supremacist slogan "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children", and the 8th letter of the alphabet, which stands for 'Heil Hitler'.
The two clubs on Sunday, together with La Liga, were unanimous in their support of the decision to call a halt to the game in light of the chants, which makes it all the more odd Zelensky would want to commend Zozulya.The courts of football fan culture has never been ruled by the law of cancel culture, and rarely passes sentence without being convinced beyond reasonable doubt of the crime.
Rayo fans were judge, jury and executioner, and allegedly moved Zozulya to tears in the dressing room at halftime, after which his Albacete teammates refused to appear for the second 45.It wasn't a punch, but it was a huge blow to Zozulya. But the fist from Rayo that crashed down against a fascist narrative will be countered by Zelensky's open palm, a proverbial slap in the face for anyone fighting to rid the sport of its ideology.