Recently I have been in touch with the Russian Rugby League. They have been kind enough to give me some of the background on what’s been going on with Russia there and also what their hopes, goals and plans for the future are as well as offering to the world unique opportunities for investing in the RRL and Russia.
Last year in the European World Cup Qualifiers four nations took part, Italy, Serbia, Lebanon and Russia. Italy may have won through to the World Cup but in some ways this tournament was another victory; a victory for the Russians, who, just a couple years earlier stared into the black abyss of never playing Rugby League again. The Russian Story is a long one and complicated but it is also one of hope and triumph where people who do love the game see that it continues.
The short story of Russian Rugby League Federation goes back to around 1989 when Edgard Taturyan started to take the first steps into playing Rugby League in Russia. With the help of other enthusiastic friends he set up the “Rugby Union-13 of the USSR”. Edgard Taturyian, who was the Russian Rugby Union coach at the time, officially split from the RRU to form the Russian Rugby League in 1991 and several of the teams went over with him. He had many people who supported his dream including S. Chichenkov (later President of Federation of hockey), W. Knorr (from Kazakhstan), V. Sapozhnikov, N. Rumyantsev (St. Petersburg), VA Tikhonov, E. Lomov, A. Demidov, S. Karagodin (Tiraspol), V. Mazalov, Y. Kiyanov, and S. Cherenkov.
The sport grew quickly, with Russian teams like Kazan touring overseas to the UK. A Domestic Competition grew and saw teams from Moscow, Kazan and St Petersburg joining and be competitive. The Russians also set up one of the earlier international round robbin tournaments, The Victory Cup. Teams that were invited to play in this tournament were from nations involved in the Victory of World War II and included teams from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, France and The Unites States. These were run by the then RRFL’s President Akhmet Kamaldinov who did much to run the sport and fund it than anyone at the time. The Russians were also given full member status of the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) in 2005 which also gave them full test status in the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF). The sport was growing domestically and also within the military.
When Kamaldinov departed in 2005 it was intended to re-work the Victory Cup tournament into a new format and rename it the Victory 7s. The hope was that eventually this would grow and become the new World 7s which had itself collapsed just a couple years earlier in Australia. However without the physical and financial backing of groups around the world these plans fell through themselves.
In 2008 the sport was dealt another big blow, but this time from not within. The Rugby Unoin 7s were given Olympic status and this gave a large pool of money for teams and nations to develop the sport. This was a big body blow to the RRLF as three of the major clubs in the competition moved over, back to Rugby Union. By 2009 this included the Kazan Arrows, Dinamo Moscow and of course the Russian Champions Lokomotove Moscow. It also forced the government to de-register the Russian Rugby League from the State Register of Sports of Russia. This took away money and the sport nearly collapsed in Russia with no national competitions played in 2009.
With the intervention of the RLEF and RLIF some form of stability and semblance was restored. There were several groups vying for control of the sport but finally a resolution was found and The Russian Association of Rugby League Clubs was established with Edgard Taturyan at its head once more. This move was a response to the Minister of Sports order of 21 January 2010 to establish a new Board of Control and this group was recognised by the RLEF and thus succeeded the old RRLF. With a new extensive board of Control the RRL is looking to move the greatest game forward in the country. The current board now is:
Edgard Taturyan – President
Alexey Morozov – Vice President
Sergey Kashutin – Board Member, International Committee
Sergei Kravets – Information
Andrey Volkov – Coaching Committee
Alexander V. Volkov – Judiciary Committee
Edward Yu Osokov – Head Coach
Victor Sapozhnikov – Board member and website
Anatoly Broslav -Board Member
Arthur Martirosyan – Board member and Ukranian Rugby League
John Slade – RRL overseas development officer
The various domestic divisions, junior and women’s rugby League are also represented:
Viktor Kraev – Conference Center
Vladimir Kushnerchuk – Conference South
Gregory Y. Esin – St. Petersburg
Vladimir E. Kozlov – Women’s Rugby League
Igor Abanin – Junior Rugby League
Then there are the representatives of clubs in the Russian Rugby League:
Vadim Fedchuk – Storm, Coach
Dmitry V. Litvinov – St. Petersburg
Shamil Akbulatov – RBC
Artem Grigoryan – RBC
Ilgiz Filgatovich Galimov – Bears, Coach/Referee
Alexander Lysokon – RFC Vereya
Viktor Sorokin – Young Dynamo
Alexey Schegelsky – Nara
The domestic competition has also been restructured with 4 groups or divisions, similar to what the NFL does in the USA, with a total of 29 teams. However one of those division is actually the Ukranian domestic competition which sees its future with the Russian competition where it can have access to more competitive teams. The Center Division is dominated by Moscow clubs, RLC Vereya, Thrashers Moscow, RLC Nara, Spartak-Losinska Moscow, RLC Centaur Moscow, SC Nord Moscow, Dynamo Moscow and RBK Moscow. The North-West Division has 6 teams comprising RLC Nevskaya Zastava, Kronstadt, LGU, Sphinx, University and Narva Zastava. The South Division has 8 teams comprising of Sphera Volgodonsk, Crystal Rostov on Don, Express Rostov on Don, DGTU-Academy Rostov on Don, DPGU Makhachkala, SGAP Saratov, Stroitel Rostov on Don and TGPU Taganrog. Finally the Ukrainian Division has 7 teams, Legion XIII Kharkov, UIPA, Shtorm, Donbass Tigers, Tafun, Dnepr and Argo.
From these four divisions the top two teams go into a playoff division to determine the national champions. This is called the Association of Rugby League Clubs of Russia (ARLKR). The Ukraine are not just the only ex-Soviet states that have taken up the mantle of the greatest game. Latvia and Estonia are playing it also and in recent years have been involved in the European Bowl. A few years ago there was some interest in Kazakhstan but nothing has come of that since.
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