Egyptian football fans are backing star player Mohamed Salah after it was revealed he is ready to quit the national team over his anger at being photographed with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
On Sunday it was revealed the Liverpool star was considering ending his international career over his disappointment at what has happened in Chechnya, where the team has been based during the World Cup at Russia 2018, a source close to the forward told CNN.
Football fans across Egypt reacted to the news of Salah’s potential decision by using the hashtag “I’m with Salah” and backing his discomfort over becoming embroiled in politics.
Many supporters laid the blame at the feet of the Egyptian Football Association and have begged that it stop using Salah for political means.
Kadyrov has been widely condemned for human rights abuses and the persecution of the LGBT community in Chechnya.
According to the source, the player felt exposed after being photographed walking beside Kadyrov, an incident which became a major talking point at the World Cup, leading to criticism of the forward.
The source told CNN the Liverpool star doesn’t wish to engage in topics beyond football or to be used for anyone’s political image.
Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya since 2004, has stifled any form of dissent, subduing the separatist movement that fought the Russian army for nearly two decades.
Recently Kadyrov made Salah an honorary citizen of the Chechen Republic.
There was also reaction from human rights groups to the news that Salah could quit international football in protest at being pictured with Kadyrov.
The director global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, Minky Worden, tweeted: “Human Rights Watch warned @FIFAcom that Kadyrov was going to use hosting to wrap himself in FIFA flag+bring ignominy to the #WorldCup by “sportswashing” Chechnya abuses+anti-LGBT purge.”
Alvi Karimov, press secretary for the Chechen leader, told Russian newspaper Kommersant: “These words that there is discord, confusion and vacillation in the Egyptian national team, that Mohamed Salah is going to leave the team, and this is connected with his stay in the Chechen Republic, is simply a shameless lie.”
Kadyrov’s press secretary stressed that during the entire stay of the Egyptian national team in Grozny, Salah was in an “excellent mood.”
In an email sent to CNN on Sunday, the Egyptian Football Federation said it was surprised that Salah was ready to “quit the national team” and that the 26-year-old hadn’t informed them of that intention.
“We were always informed by Salah when he takes any decisions,” said the statement.
“We spend the whole day together and he has never discussed this issue with any of the delegation’s members.
“We are here in a sports event and we are following FIFA procedures, we don’t discuss politics, and if there is any political discussion, it should be directed to FIFA.”
Egypt’s final World Cup game was against Saudi Arabia on Monday. Salah gave Egypt the lead, but a late stoppage-time goal enabled Saudi Arabia to win 2-1.
CNN’s John Sinnott and Alireza Hajihosseini contributed to this report.