ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — A conservative legislator in Russia says he wants to ban “mockery” of the national soccer team because the players are “fighting for the honor of our country.”
Vitaly Milonov told The Associated Press on Monday that soccer players and their coach should be considered like “our diplomats, our army,” notably during the World Cup that Russia is currently hosting.
The national team — and especially its coach — were the butt of widespread jokes and a popular parody song leading up to the tournament.
Milonov is part of a group of Russian lawmakers in the State Duma who drafted a bill imposing a fine of 10,000 rubles ($160) against anyone who criticizes the team. Milonov is best-known as the author of Russia’s law against gay “propaganda” toward minors.
“During the World Cup these people are fighting for the honor of the country,” he said in an interview in his hometown of St. Petersburg four days after Russia thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0 to open the World Cup. “It’s the responsibility of the state to defend its representatives from verbal abuse.”
“This is not just about football. This is about our national identity,” he said. Milonov said that the bill is directed exactly against “very brazen, ugly, fake and dirty” insulting comments regarding the Russian national team, and not casual jokes.
While Milonov is from the dominant pro-Kremlin party, it’s unclear whether the bill would win enough Duma support to become law.
Fans have mixed feelings.
“I think it’s harmful to move in such direction. It may finally lead to the situation when it won’t be allowed to criticize anyone,” said Alexander Gruzdev, a 44-year-old who works as a manager in St. Petersburg.
Teacher Svetlana Rybkina, 37, said “no matter what, we should support our national team, like the fans of all other nations do.”
However, she acknowledged, “it can be hard to draw the line between the notion of a joke and an insult.”