The Russian Bear Rises.

By Daniel Andruczyk

Todays blog is an article I wrote for Rugby League Review April edition. Recently there have been many stories about what has been going on in Russia. I have been able to talk to Rasul Sharipov who leads the defence teams in Russia as well as I spoke to Tas Baitieri, the development for the Rugby league International Federation.

The history of Russian Rugby League is a long and complicated one, one I will try to condense. In 1989 with the collapse of Communism in Russia many of the infrastructures, including sporting ones also collapsed since they were tied to the communist system. Rugby Union was affected and so it allowed Rugby League to be started as Union players were looking for a sport to play. Prospects then looked great for the sport as Union players took the sport up, travelled to the UK and forged valuable contacts. The sport seemed to flourish with some teams like Locomotive Moscow being semi-professional and paying players. But for the next 20 years, despite things looking rosy all was not good. Very little development happened at the grass roots level and in the end it was only Locomotive that was able to have any sort of funding and was able to buy all the best players. They won and held the Championship and Cup of Russia for many, many years. Eventually things came to a head and the Federation was not able to sustain itself in the present climate and the two strongest teams (Locomotive Moscow and Strela (Arrow) Kazan), lured by the dollar from Union 7s, switched back. The Russian Rugby League Federation was disbanded and de-registered by the government. Many stories came out that things were effectively dead but as we will see, this is not the case at all – if anything Russian Rugby League now has the potential to be stronger than ever by finally investing in its grass roots.

Four weeks ago Tas travelled to Russia to see what the state of the game was there. It is true that Klebanov, who controlled Locomotive Moscow and effectively the RRL has now switched to Rugby Union 7s with his senior side but his juniors still continue to play Rugby League. But what is most important is that there are other willing to step up to the plate for Russian Rugby League. Russian Rugby League is now amateur but it seems that now the path has opened up to be able to really develop the sport from the ground up. When asked Sharipov said “We are back at the beginning of the development of Rugby League in Russia. Finally I think we realised that we must develop the sport amongst the amateurs and being professional is the pinnacle of the development. We need to develop the in the regions of Russia, in the army, The police and in particular to set up schools teams, juniors and engage them in our federation. We need a National Federation of Rugby League in Russia”.

Tas was able to meet with up to 30 people that want to see the sport continue. This certainly is very encouraging. At the moment there seem to be three groups that want to play. This is not to say that there is a split, not a political one anyway, but more of a regional one and its now a matter of finding how best to bring them all together.

The RLIF is keen for there to be one unified competition, “The message was that we’d help with things like coach and referees education by sending providers across as an example but having one joint competition is far better than having 4 smaller conference style set ups” Tas said.

Tas went to two training sessions that were in the snow, this showed commitment by all those involved. Tas is keen to try and get something based on the Australian model, where a club fields teams in different levels of competition from U5s through to seniors. “”Sure we are a unique model but by taking the best practice models and trying to develop in a similar way we take the best and super impose on the Russian Model.

LghLok03 Leigh playing Lokomotive Moscow in the 2009 Challenge Cup at the LSV.

Rasul Sharipov is an important piece in this puzzle. Rasul runs the Defence forces section of Rugby League in Russia and it’s a great way to expand the sport in the country. “Each year in the competition we had no less than 30 teams participate from the countries military institution. The competition is played in two phases: A preliminary stage where 12 of the military districts play local competitions. Then a final stage where the winners of these districts play each other” Rasul said. “In 2008 the Artillery Institute of Penza were champions while in 2009 the Car Institute of Ryazan won”. Sharipov has submitted papers to re-register Rugby League with the Russian Government as the National Federation of Rugby League Russia and is hoping that this will also get the support of the RLIF.

There also are two other groups led by Mr. Tatouryan and Mr. Eremin. The group led by Eremin is from the old Russian Rugby League federation while Tatouriyan leads another group of amateur teams and is not officially registered. These groups have 7 to 8 and 5 to 6 teams respectively. The trick now is how to bring all three groups together “Divided this would be an average competition but united it would be tremendous” says Tas, he goes on to say “maybe an alternative is to set up different conferences and let them play in their own league and then play off for a Russian Champion. It works in the States with NFL and Basketball, even boxing has about 4 different recognized world titles”.

Plans are afoot by Sharipov with the Military forces and some amateur teams with tournaments and domestic competitions this year. A 7s tournament was held in February to celebrate “Defender of the Fatherland Day”. There are plans to revive the Victory Cup in a 9s format on the 29-30 May. From June to October there will be a military domestic competition of sorts with the two stages mentioned above but it may also include some civil amateur teams. Finally from 14-17 November there will be a Military Universities competition. So there is a good base there for the sport to grow.

With teams in Moscow, the military, student teams in Rostov on Don and teams in St Petersburg, Rugby League definitely is not dead in Russia. With all the teams being amateur now the talent may be able to develop in a more structured way now and see a competitive domestic scene. On the international stage, soon, we once again may see the rise of the Russian Bear.

LghVrv08 Vereya in action in the 2008 Challenge Cup.

Daniel Andruczyk’s email: daniel@rugbyleagueinternationalscores.com
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16 Responses to “The Russian Bear Rises.”

  1. jason says:

    wow, enthralling reading.
    thanks for the indepth history and current update.

    We can only hope that this new beginning will actually allow them to grow to higher levels. By working from the bottom, up…rather than a few teams dominating, and then being involved in regular international competition…maybe, just maybe!

  2. deluded pom says:

    Communism in Russia didn’t fall until 1991, two years after rugby league was introduced.

  3. deluded pom says:

    You could even argue that the fall of communism actually hindered the development of the game in Russia.

    • druzik says:

      Don’t think it hindered it as such, it managed to open it up more to the masses I think, I think it was just a case of one team wanting control and they had the means to do it and in the end everyone got fed up with it.

      If there ever was an example of what happens where there is no salary cap… Loko was it.

      • deluded pom says:

        With communism they would have had some government support. Without it they were left to their own devices. I remember a similar scenario to the Loko one happening in Soviet football in the seventies where all the country’s top players were “drafted” into one team (can’t remember which one, army team I think)and were basically the national team in club shirts. The whole thing fell over when they failed to win the Soviet Championship.

      • druzik says:

        They still did get some support from the government, but the thing was that you had one powerful figure that was effectively taking all the cash for himself and the club.

      • russian tragic says:

        Precisely … I too have had 1st hand insider experience with Russian official’s and players since the early 90’s Sydney Sevens (Kolikhov vs Klebanov era)thru to the 08 World Cup qualifiers vs Ireland and Lebanon … and it baffles me how certain administrators become so affluent coming from humble Soviet backgrounds?????????????

  4. Anthony says:

    Great to hear that Russia is kicking on. I was getting a bit worried that it might die in the arse

  5. Jon says:

    Would it be an idea to have the Russian national team take part in the Challenge Cup maybe?

    • druzik says:

      No, leave the CC as a club comp and national teams in International comps. Two Russian club teams did compete in the CC already, that is a better way to get teams to have experience and eventually build up through the clubs enough players to have a competitive national team.

  6. russian tragic says:

    How true … it’s all about the $’s – sponsorships, grants and funding are all susceptible to mainstream corruption. The only solution is for the International RL Federation to fund an independant aussie/pom administrator who is a genuine supporter of the game with russian as a 2nd language and sort out the mess by dangling the cash carrot … no different to how the IRB have somewhat control over russian rugby – problem is there’s no carrot.

  7. druzik says:

    You have issues mate… your rants are not even worth any responses.

    The Russians did get Governments funding, I know because I have spoken with the relevant parties and I have met Russian RL officials in the past.

    You may want to get off your couch and travel outside your suburb for a bit.

  8. C.T.SANDERS says:

    WHO WAS PINCHING ALL THE MONEY IN RUSSIA DANIEL??

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