Officials guarantee Zozulya's safety if he stays at Rayo

MADRID (AP) " Spanish soccer officials say they will guarantee the safety of Ukraine striker Roman Zozulya if he stays at second-division club Rayo Vallecano despite protests by fans who accused him of links to radical groups.

Zozulya will make a decision about his future by Monday, according to a statement released by the Spanish league on Thursday following a meeting between officials from the league, club and the local players' association.

"The three entities want to make it clear that they are together in this matter and maintain a firm position not to surrender to certain pressures," the statement said. "In the meeting, it was agreed to guarantee the player's safety in his professional activity and his personal life."

The statement did not elaborate on the security measures that would be taken if Zozulya remained with Rayo.

After his loan from Real Betis was finalized on Tuesday, Zozulya wrote an open letter to Rayo fans dismissing links to "any paramilitary or neo-Nazi groups," as many had written on social media. He said he supported the army back home only to "help protect" his country and his people.

Betis players earlier Thursday showed their support for Zozulya after club officials said the transfer was called off because of the reaction of some of Rayo supporters.

Players and coach Victor Sanchez appeared at a news conference to condemn the "public lynching of a player whose professional and personal behavior has been impeccable since he arrived."

Betis captain Joaquin Sanchez read a statement expressing the players' indignation with the "extremely serious situation."

"We are all Zozulya," Sanchez said at the end.

Sanchez said the local players' association was already working to "defend the rights of our teammate" so he can continue playing in "adequate conditions" and with guarantees for his safety.

"We hope the entities responsible for the well-being of the competition take the necessary measures to keep the image of the competition and of the Spanish league from being damaged by these unacceptable behaviors," Sanchez said.

Spanish league president Javier Tebas told local media he would consider filing criminal complaints against the Rayo fans who offended Zozulya.

The player's loan to Rayo was called off on Wednesday because of protests on social media and insults by a few supporters when he arrived at the club.

Betis players reiterated Zozulya's claim that "fake news" originated the misunderstanding about the striker's views in Ukraine.

It started when the 27-year-old striker arrived in Spain last year to play for Betis wearing a shirt that a local journalist thought displayed a badge supporting radical groups in his native country. He said the journalist admitted the mistake at the time and issued an apology.

Because Zozulya's loan to Rayo officially went through, he can't play for Betis or any other European club until the new transfer window opens in the summer.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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