The former football captain of Russia’s national football team fears he could be “jailed or killed” for speaking out against the “complete horror” of his country’s war against Ukraine.
Igor Denisov, 38, is the most prominent athlete who lives in Russia to address the conflict and call for an end to the violence that began when Vladimir Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine in February.
In an interview with a sports journalist Nobel Arustamyan on YouTube, he said: “To me, this war is a catastrophe, a complete horror.”
The former Zenit St Petersburg star, who captained the national team from 2012 to 2016, also referred to war protesters in the country who have been detained by Russian authorities. He added: “I don’t know if I’ll get jailed or killed for these words.”
Russian authorities have been cracking down on dissent ever since the invasion started and the country’s parliament recently passed legislation that could see protesters get 15 years in prison for speaking out against the war.
The 38-year-old has also written to Putin to protest the invasion and said he is “ready to kneel” in front of the president to beg him to “make it all stop”. Coincidentally, Putin is a big fan of Zenit St Petersburg.
The former defensive midfielder is one of the few sports stars in the country to make his anti-war views known. Tennis star Andrey Rublev wrote ‘no war please’ on a camera lens after reaching the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The Russian national team have been banned from playing in international competitions and their club sides are also banned from European competitions such as the Champions League.
They have been similar sanctions in other sports, with tennis players from Russia and close-ally Belarus unable to play at Wimbledon next month.