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A Kyrgyz kickboxer was threatened with deportation and/or imprisonment for refusing to accept the outcome of his fight in Kazan, Russia.
On a fateful night in Kazan, Russia, Dastan Sharsheev stood in the ring prepared to hear the outcome of his quarter-final bout against Anton Kalinin. Having dominated all three rounds in the short-notice bout, the announcement of the victor was a mere formality. Dressed in his traditional Kyrgyz Kalpak, a high-crowned cap made of sheep’s skin typical in Central Asia, Sharsheev pandered to the crowd and smiled broadly as he awaited the decision. Within moments, his smile was replaced with a baffled expression of incredulity. The judges had awarded their fellow Russian with the victory – a win that set the stage for a series of events that emphasized the plight of Central Asian migrants in the Russian Federation.
Sharsheev allowed himself a moment to collect his thoughts. He stood in the ring, rooted to a single spot, as his coaches attempted to console him. The crowd watched in silence as tournament officials and security staff surrounded the Kyrgyz fighter to dismiss his qualms with the scoring. This only exasperated an already tense situation. As the minutes counted down, it became evidently clear that Sharsheev had no plans to exit the ring until his concerns were addressed in public. It was here that Sharsheev, one of nearly two million Kyrgyz migrants in Russia, was threatened with imprisonment or deportation for his actions.
It was the man who officiated his quarter-final that first chimed in: “Now you will simply be deported and won’t be allowed back into the country.”
Sharsheev was livid. Within moments, he had been demoted to a second-class citizen and reminded of the xenophobia that plagues hard-working migrants throughout Russia’s 21 republics. This was no longer about the result of a professional fight, but about the ongoing struggle of every man, woman, or child who happened to look like him in Russia. Instead of succumbing to the stinging threats, he confronted them, and demanded a microphone.
Sharsheev had something important to say:
“Good evening, dear Tatarstan! I am here for the second time, the people here are very kind. I want to say that you saw who actually won. This is a tournament in which everything has to be right, where there should be fair judges. Was it fair today?” (h/t Kloop.kg)
The audience, hanging on his every word, responded with a resounding “NO.” Sharsheev continued:
“So ask yourself the question: where is justice in this world? Where is she? Or is it set to the color of my skin?”
Sharsheev’s powerful statement echoed throughout the arena and reverberated across an audience willing to lend their collective ears to the fighter’s cause. Sharsheev finished his impassioned speech with the phrase “Kyrgyzstan Forward.” Having won over the crowd in attendance, Sharsheev exited the ring, collected his belongings, and went home.
While Sharsheev said his part after the fight on April 22nd, his words spread like wildfire across the post-Soviet sphere and made headlines for days to come. The fighter had become an overnight sensation and a symbol of solidarity for Kyrgyz migrants everywhere. To an extent, he embodied their daily struggles in Russia. The laws regulating workers have become increasingly restrictive and obstacles continue to be used as a filtration system to limit the influx of foreign nationals. This takes the form of ‘blacklists’ for incomplete or non-existent documentation or even outright deportation. Those who manage to arrive in Russia have a month to register a place of residence, obtain a licence for their particular skills, complete a medical exam, and pass a Russian language test. After all that, they are still likely to be paid less than a Russian citizen for the exact same work, all while remaining invisible to the majority of Russian citizens. Sharsheev’s incident reminded migrants across Russia of their vulnerability and status as second-class citizens.
And while reports suggested that the Tatneft Cup had apologized for the incident, Sharsheev was quick to dismiss them as “excuses.” Instead, the fighter suggested that a sincere apology would not be directed at him, but at all migrants insulted by the xenophobic comments.
“You know, those words were the exact reason of my anger,” Sharsheev told Combat Press. “And not only me, but all migrants in Russia. Russia is a great country with many nationalities. If he wants to say sorry, I would say to him: ‘Don’t speak to me, but ask for forgiveness of all the migrants in Russia that were disappointed by your words.’
“I don’t keep anger. I am just disappointed that the referee said such things. He didn’t touch me; he touched everyone. My soul is hurt.”