Pussy Riot claims on-field protest at World Cup final

Russian protest group claimed responsibility after four people ran onto field in police uniforms

Security stewards remove people who ran onto the pitch and briefly stopped the final match between France and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, July 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Russian protest group Pussy Riot claimed responsibility Sunday for four people who brought the World Cup final to a brief halt by running onto the field dressed in police uniforms.

The three women and one man who charged onto the field simultaneously in the 52nd minute of one of the world’s most watched sporting events were tackled to the ground by stewards. Croatia defender Dejan Lovren pushed the man, helping a steward to detain him.

Before being hauled away, one of the women managed to reach the centre of the field and share a double high-five with France forward Kylian Mbappe.

“Hello everyone from the Luzhniki field, it’s great here,” the heavily political punk band said on Twitter , and released a statement calling for the freeing of political prisoners, an end to “illegal arrests” of protesters and to “allow political competition” in Russia.

Their statement also referenced the case of Oleg Sentsov, a vocal opponent of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, who was sentenced in 2015 to 20 years for conspiracy to commit terror acts. He denies the charges and has been on a hunger strike since mid-May.

The group said the police uniforms symbolized how Russian police’s actions fall short of their “heavenly” depiction in literature and called for reforms. It wasn’t clear if they used the uniforms as a ruse to enter the Luzhniki Stadium amid tight security, and the group couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

READ MORE: France doubles up Croatia 4-2 to win World Cup

“The citizens in question were taken to the local police station,” the Moscow branch of the Russian Interior Ministry said, without providing further details.

Pussy Riot rose to global prominence with their daring outdoor performances critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012 that sent two members to prison for nearly two years. Putin was watching the game alongside his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

The group was previously known for wearing brightly colored balaclavas, though those who protested Sunday did so with their faces uncovered.

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The protest was briefly shown on international TV broadcasts, even though FIFA policy is usually to cut away from field invasions.

James Ellingworth, The Associated Press

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