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Schalke rule out trip to meet Putin

Schalke’s sporting director Horst Heldt says the club have no plans to travel to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Clemens Toennies and Vladimir Putin hold up a Schalke shirt in Dresden in 2006.
Schalke fans have expressed concern at the club's ties to Vladamir Putin.

Earlier this week Royal Blues fans sent an open letter to the club’s honorary council to express their concerns over ties with the Russian president Putin amid the Crimea crisis.

Schalke fanzine "Schalker Markt" urged the club not take up on Putin’s offer to visit the Russian president, who has reportedly invited the team to Russia after a recent meeting between Putin and the Schalke chairman Clemens Toennies at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

"We request that you do not grant him this audience and ensure that the club distances itself from Vladimir Putin in public," the letter addressed to the honorary council said.

"Schalke is a club with democratic foundations and the freedom of expression is very precious. We should not function as the lapdogs of an autocrat and ennoble him with a visit.

"This is especially pertinent given the current political situation in the Ukraine, as Vladimir Putin has grossly infringed on the Ukraine’s sovereignty."

The letter has since been picked up by several German media outlets, and, during a news conference on Thursday ahead of Schalke’s Bundesliga game against Hoffenheim, reporters asked the club’s coach Jens Keller for his reaction to the criticism.

Jens Keller was left looking for words, and, following a couple of seconds of silence, Horst Heldt answered the question for Keller.

"It is true that we have been invited, for some time now, but we have no travelling plan," Sueddeutsche reports Heldt as saying.

Schalke are also tied to Russia by their sponsor Gazprom, in which the Russian government has a majority stake. Gazprom has sponsored the club since January 2007 and is contracted to do so until 2017.

The company, which recently heightened tensions with the Ukraine when suggesting it may raise gas prices for the country, is said to pay a minimum of 15 million euros a year to the Bundesliga side.

On Friday, the German broadsheet Sueddeutsche Zeitung asked the club for a statement about the most recent events regarding their main sponsor.

"Schalke and Gazprom binds a reliable, trustful and constructive partnership," the club told the broadsheet.

"In our function as a football club we will not comment on issues that are politically relevant in the native land of our partners," the statement continued.

Sueddeutsche also asked UEFA for their comment on the recent developments of the Champions League sponsor, and if that meant that UEFA has been drawn into the conflict.

"There are no concerns over the collaboration within the sponsoring deal for Champions League," the association replied in a brief email to the paper.

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