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Georgia–Russia rugby match postponed to protect ‘health and safety of players’

24 February 2022
A social media poster advertising the game in Ukrainian-language.

Rugby Europe have ‘postponed’ a match scheduled for Sunday between the Russian and Georgian national teams, amidst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

In a statement on Thursday, the European rugby governing body said they had taken the decision ‘considering the current situation and to preserve the health and safety of all players and officials’

Rugby Europe said they had also cancelled the Snow Rugby Championship scheduled to take place on 27–28 February in Moscow, but that a game between Spain and Russia in the Women’s Rugby Europe Championship scheduled for 26 February in Madrid would still go ahead.

[Read on OC Media: Editorial | Russia's imperialist invasion of Ukraine]

The match had already raised controversy after the Georgian Rugby Union published an announcement of the event on Tuesday wholly in the Ukrainian language. 

The poster was removed several hours later, with the Russian Rugby Union claiming it was a result of their protest to Rugby Europe. 

This did not stop several groups critical of Russia in Georgia — including the European Georgia party and the Shame Movement — from calling on others to express support to Ukraine during the match using Ukrainian national flags, including when Russia’s national anthem would be played. 

Hours later, on 23 February, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili warned against ‘provocations by bankrupted politicians’ during the match, threatening them with the ‘strictest reaction’.

Russian state-run media Ria Novosti quoted Russian Rugby Union spokesperson Anton Khalizov as claiming that Rugby Union disapproved of the Georgian poster finding it ‘inadmissible’. 

‘Rugby Europe are supporting our position about the inadmissibility of such publications’, Khalizov was quoted as saying.

In reply to OC Media on 23 February, Rugby Europe declined to comment on the specific case, but did refer to their competition regulations that ‘political, religious, or xenophobic sponsorship or message displayed by a team or any official member of the delegation of the Union will be sanctioned by disciplinary and financial sanctions’.

The match was a part of the Rugby Europe Championship 2022, which is also a gateway for Georgia, Romania, Portugal, Spain, Russia, and the Netherlands to qualify for the Rugby World Cup next year.

Georgian fans have boasted of winning almost all of their over two dozen matches with Russia since 1993.

Georgian–Russian rugby matches have been highly politically symbolic in recent years, especially after the Russian Federation recognised the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the 2008 August War. 

[Read more on OC Media: Georgia raises the spectre of 2008 following Donetsk and Luhansk recognition]

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