MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Moscow court on Wednesday sentenced two Russian international soccer players to prison terms for their involvement in assaults last year in a case that a top official said should serve as a lesson to other privileged athletes.
Moscow’s Presnensky District Court sentenced Alexander Kokorin to 18 months in jail, while Pavel Mamayev was ordered to serve 17 months after months of hearings that have drawn extensive public interest.
Kokorin’s defence is planning to appeal, RIA news agency reported.
Kokorin and Mamayev, who before their arrest played in Russia’s top league and with the national team, had been in custody since October last year over drunken assaults that prompted strong reactions from the authorities.
The two players were caught on surveillance footage taking part in an assault against two civil servants, including a trade ministry official, and an altercation with the driver of a television presenter.
The two had pleaded for leniency and asked for forgiveness as fans groups called on the authorities not to ruin their careers.
Sports minister Pavel Kolobkov said he hoped their story would serve as a lesson to other Russian athletes.
“High-level athletes work 365 days a year: they train, prepare and there is no such thing as free time between competitions during which they can drink alcohol,” RIA quoted Kolobkov as saying.
“I hope that this will serve as a lesson for them, for all and for all other athletes.”
Some Kremlin critics have said the case has been used to divert attention from other problems in the country, including an unpopular measure to increase the pension age.
For Anatoly Vorobyov, former general secretary of the Russian Football Union, the case highlights flaws in Russia’s grassroots soccer system, where players think that high salaries often equate impunity.
“What they did does not portray them, the whole system of modern Russian sport and what happens at the clubs in a positive light,” he said.
Once viewed as a rising star of the Russian team, the 28-year-old Kokorin has made more headlines off the pitch than on it in the last few years.
In one of these scandals, he and Mamayev were demoted to their clubs’ reserve teams after a champagne-fuelled party in Monaco following Russia’s early exit from the 2016 European Championship.
After being snubbed from the national side for nearly a year, Kokorin was sidelined from last year’s World Cup because of a knee injury.
(Reporting by Gennady Novik and Christian Lowe, Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by)