Georgian Freestyle Wrestlers under Fire over Russian Flagged T-shirts Photo

Georgian freestyle wrestlers’ photo in the colors of the Russian flag and the image of Jambolat Tedeev, Russian freestyle wrestling team trainer, prompted public condemnation in Georgia.

The photo of two members of the Georgian national freestyle team, Geno Petriashvili and Zurab Iakobishvili, together with their coach – Giorgi Iantbelidze – standing with a group of persons in sport suits reading “Russia,” was published by the Tbilisi-based yesterday.

The photo went viral on Facebook, with many users expressing their disapproval of the wrestlers’ appearance in the Russian flagged T-shirts.

Geno Petriashvili responded to the concerns in a Facebook post, saying the photo was taken during the 2018 European Wrestling Championships in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. Petriashvili said they took the photo upon request of Jambolat Tedeev.

“The T-shirt shows the image of a great friend and a great supporter of ours and it was taken only because of that; this was only a gesture of friendship and I did not pay attention to the color of the T-shirt,” Petriashvili added.

Giorgi Iantbelidze repeated Petriashvili’s words, saying the T-shirt was the brand item of the championships and had nothing to do with politics. “Jambolat is a friend of ours; he always tries to support us and our team members,” he said.

Iantbelidze then apologized for their “unintended step.” “We, the freestyle wrestlers’ team have always been firm on our position – we condemn Russia’s aggression against Georgia.”

Later, Iantbelidze added that the Russian occupation was especially painful for him and Petriashvili, as both hail from Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, and that the photo was taken as sign of friendship to their “Ossetian friend” (Tedeev is a native of Tskhinvali as well), who “has been trying to demonstrate with his deeds that Georgians and Ossetians are brothers.”

Tamaz Gegeshidze, the president of the National Wrestling Federation, was less apologetic, telling reporters that “it is nobody’s business what our team members will put on.” He also stressed it was Tedeev who facilitated the transfer the body of Archil Tatunashvili, a thirty-five-year-old Georgian citizen, who died in Tskhinvali custody last December.

Jambolat Tedeev, Russian free-style-wrestling team trainer, is a member of the Parliament of North Ossetia, one of Russia’s republics in North Caucasus. Tedeev was active in the South Ossetian politics as well. In 2011, he intended to compete for the region’s Tbilisi-condemned presidential elections, but was barred on the grounds of not meeting residency requirement.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)