Salah suckered in inauspicious World Cup start

Diego Maradona and Ronaldinho, boxer Floyd Mayweather and now, at the World Cup in Russia, Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah. The common denominator: By cozying up with Ramzan Kadyrov, they have all played their part in making the Chechen leader accused of terrible human rights abuses seem like a normal sports-loving guy.

Which, of course, is the point. It's far better, if you are Kadyrov, to be seen as a friend to the rich and famous than as a brutal tyrant. That is how he is described by his many critics outside of Russia and the Russian republic he rules with support from the Kremlin.

Those critics include the U.S. government. It has had sanctions in place against Kadyrov since December , accusing him of "being responsible for extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."

It isn't clear whether Salah knew all of this when Kadyrov turned up at his hotel in Grozny , the Chechen capital which the Egypt team has chosen as its base for its first World Cup since 1990. Kadyrov asked for face-time with Salah, by far the team's biggest name and an icon in the Muslim world and beyond, and whisked him away to a stadium photo-op.

Even if Salah did know about Kadyrov's unsavory reputation, even if he did feel uncomfortable rubbing shoulders with him, could he have refused? How does one say 'No,' diplomatically and safely, to someone like Kadyrov in his own fiefdom? Either way, it was poor optics.