Sunday, June 16, 2024

Russian flag in boots of Cameroon soccer star: “A mark of respect”

FIFA officials will not intervene despite calls from sections of the Norwegian media for action against Cameroon player Gael Ondoua, who displayed the Russian flag on his boots at the World Cup in Qatar.

Ondoua, 27, made the gesture as he appeared as a substitute in Cameroon’s opening game against Switzerland on Thursday.

The midfielder was born in Cameroon but also has Russian citizenship, having spent much of his youth in the country.

Ondoua emerged through the ranks at Lokomotiv Moscow, also playing at CSKA Moscow and Anzhi Makhachkala before moving on to Swiss club Servette and current team Hannover 96 in Germany.

Ondoua said the small images of the Russian flag alongside a Cameroonian one on his boots in Qatar are a mark of respect for both countries.

But the gesture caused anger among pundits in Norway. Former professional footballer Carl-Erik Torp claimed to broadcaster NRK that it could be perceived as a “provocation,” considering the conflict in Ukraine and the ban imposed on all Russian football teams by FIFA and UEFA.  

Both Torp and Berit Lindeman – who is a member of the Norwegian football association’s ethics committee – told NRK that FIFA should take action.

The governing body, however, told the broadcaster that it has no such plans.

“I can tell you that the disciplinary committee knows about this, but there is no problem here because he grew up in Russia. He is from Cameroon and Russia, and this is only the flag of his country,” NRK quoted FIFA press official Giovanni Marti as saying.

Ondoua himself addressed the issue in a message in Russian on Telegram.

“I see a lot of attention to my boots. And just in case, I want to emphasize that the Russian flag depicted on them is a sign of respect for the country in which I grew up, formed and received a football education,” wrote the footballer.

“My relatives live in Russia and they are always with me. This is our common home. I have been playing in boots with the Russian flag for many years and I am not going to break this tradition.”

Cameroon suffered a 1-0 defeat in their opening game against Switzerland, and next play Serbia in a crucial Group G meeting on Monday.

Beyond that is a game with five-time World Cup winners Brazil on Friday.

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