Russia – A New Era in the East for Rugby League: Part 1

By Daniel Andruczyk

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.

Rugby League in 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.

Daniel Andruczyk’s email:
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44 Responses to “Russia – A New Era in the East for Rugby League: Part 1”

  1. ParraEelsNRL says:

    Thanks Dru, you’re one in a million mate and I enjoyed reading that.

    29 open age clubs is still a big number.

    Onwards and upwards.

  2. Chris Sanders says:

    And what about the Russian Army Rugby League too Parra,where the game is spreading like wild fire,the length and breadth of Russia,where the other code Rugby Union,Putin’s pride and joy,hasn’t reared its’ugly head yet!They don’t play Rugby Union in the Russian Army.
    The Russian Army Rugby League will be the saviour of the game there,as the RRU hasn’t respected the free gangway between RU and RL,which has made life difficult in the Russian Federarion,as they see Rugby League as a threat,no different than what happened in France in the 1940’s when our game became the Forbidden Game!
    Go and Read Mike Rylance book the Forbidden Game and get it from www. total rugby

    • druzik says:

      Everyone knows about the book, and the French betrayal … what does this have to do with the thread. Stay on topic.

      I am endevouring to find out more on Rugby League in Russia. They have are not part of the RRL as far as I know.

  3. Chris Sanders says:

    It is on topic because I was speaking to a prominent RRU man in Moscow last night on the phone and he says that people cannot play both Rugby League and Rugby Union even at a professional level and I soon put him in his place,that RRU were violating the free gangway agreement that exists between RU and RL and that it has got to be respected.
    If people can’t see that this is indeed a conspiracy within,then they are blind,but the whole irony of the situation is,the rest of the Rugby League World not care a toss!
    Not only is RL a forbidden game in Putin’s Russia,but it will soon be the forgotten game and the Russian Army RL is their only hope!
    Dino Vikas has got all the information on that part of the game!

    • druzik says:

      French Rugby League is not on topic here …. I am not complaining about your Russian Comments. But leave anything that’s not on topic off. See if once in a while you went off topic it would be fine, but you do it so consistently that I have to police you … and only you… and I am tired of it!

      I spoke to Dino the other day. He says that aside from a few translations he has nothing to do with the Army Rugby League in Russia.

  4. Chris Sanders says:

    And time you went to Russia too Daniel to see for yourself!

  5. Chris Sanders says:

    It’s a parrallel what happened then and what’s happening now in parts of Europe and time for the RFL,RLEF and RLIF to do something about it but they won’t!
    Time the RFL invested money into Russia like they done with Wales,but they want to invest money into Odsal,which is a hole in the ground and that’s where RRL is also heading because of all this apathy!
    A hole in the ground!!

    • druzik says:

      Its no where near a parrallel.

      You don’t have a world war where a sport is collaborating with one side for their own advantage. RU have their Olympic Status and that gives them a leg up on Rugby League around the world.

      If only RL was so good at promoting itself.

  6. Chris Sanders says:

    And I am not going back to be treated like shit!Besides I have made many enemies with the authorities there trying to fight their(RRL)battles and the RRU hate my guts!
    I am not going where I not wanted and I don’t see others going there!

  7. kovana says:

    Lol @ Chris Sanders. Reminds me of that Mad man for Planet Rugby… Dozy.


  8. Chris Sanders says:

    RL has featured at the World Youth Games which also doubles up as the Junior Olympics in Moscow in 1998 and I didn’t see RU there!
    Samarach,the Head of the IOC,gave RL a fair hearing then,but our officials didn’t want a bar of it because of their huge inferiority complex of their own game and a chance was blown and then RU cottoned on to the idea!
    Besides the RU 7’s in Brazil in limited to the top 12 Nations and a lot will miss out!
    The top 12 Nations will be GB,Australia,Fiji,South Africa,France,Argentina,New Zealand,Samoa,Tonga,Kenya,Ireland and Japan!
    As sure as eggs!

    • Rick Farr says:

      I’m sorry, but that part where you stated that RU ‘cottoned on to the idea’ of joining the IOC after the 1998 Junior Olympics is simply not true. RU had already been an Olympic sport up until 1924, and there have been numerous attempts by the IRFB at re-inclusion (including a nearly successful 1980 bid by the hosts the Soviet Union).

      It was Vernon Pughs election to the IRFB (now the IRB) chairmanship in 1994 that immediately saw the drive for re-inclusion of RU to the Olympics, only in the short form of RU or 7’s.

      The IRB had to follow a lengthy and costly process to meet the IOCs qualifying criteria, the first stage of which culminated with RU 7’s debut at the KL Commonwealth Games in 1998.

      Meeting the IOC criteria has taken the IRB 15 years since Pugh began the process in 1994, and has resulted in the 7’s world series.

      BTW Dru in the article it is stated that the three Russian RL teams that defected did so because of the RU 7s Olympic inclusion. The date that the IOC announcement was made regarding RU 7s was Oct 9 2009, would that not have been well after the three teams jumped the fence and the aborted 2009 season?

      And aren’t NOCs run on quadrennial funding cycles, which would mean Russian RU would not receive any NOC funding until after the London Games later this year. The Russian 7’s team is not yet a permanent member of the 7’s world series, and only competes in some of the events. It is doubtful there is a great deal of funding for Russian RU and RU 7s yet, and whether the lure of funding was the reason for the clubs defections to RU is not entirely certain.

      • druzik says:

        Interesting question there Rick about the timing of the switch. I had not thought of that and nothing was mentioned to me, I will see what I can find out.

  9. Chris Sanders says:

    That’s right and I am not anoymous either!

  10. dragons4eva says:

    From a sport that nearly collapsed two years ago to having over 20 teams is just fantastic! If i remember vaguely, the original Semi Professional RL competition had 9 teams? Now to have over 20 including teams from the Ukraine is fantastic!

    It looks like even though dark times affected the sport, something even better has come out of it!

  11. Robbo says:

    I thought RL in Russia had all but vanished a couple of years ago with the defections over to RU but what a comeback, to have over 20 openage teams in such a short period of re-ermergence is a fantastic job.

  12. Robbo says:

    Also great to see bona-fide Russians running and involved in the game not just a majority of ex-pats from Aust, NZ or England with a sprinkling of locals.

    Am I pre-empting the Part B blog or are there any plans for junior and school participation?

  13. Chris Sanders says:

    The Ukraine is a different Country than Russia and so is Latvia and Estonia as well dragons4eva!
    And of course Rugby Union do a better job promoting itself than Rugby League does,as they have administrators that put their own hands in their own pockets to help their game out but we don’t.
    A big difference in my book!

  14. Chris Sanders says:

    That’ true Rick Farr in what you say but that was 15’s then and we talking 7’s which is a totally different ball game now.
    Martin Kearney came up with the idea in 1992 when he was driving with a few mates from Miami to New York and then he became a Board Member of the Russian Rugby League Federation in 1997 and then pushed the idea and of course he was instrumental in getting our sport of Rugby League accepted as a demonstration sport at the the World Youth Games in Moscow in 1998!
    Tas Baiteri sent a side from the NSW Acadammy there and likewise Dennis Ward sent a Queensland Academmy side there as well.
    Rugby Union may of beaten RL to the punch 90 years ago but you got to remember Rick Farr,that it was a flop and got chucked out because Rugby Yawnion is a bore!!

    • druzik says:

      It was more that not enough countries played it to justify its inclusion in the Olympics.

    • Rick Farr says:

      But both RU 15s and 7s are governed by the same body, the IRB (formally the IRFB) so it’s not a ‘totally different ball game’. The IRB governs both forms of RU as part of a unified strategic and operational plan.

      Olympic reinclusion for has been an important strategic goal for the IRB for decades, and I don’t think you understand how much hard work and investment was needed to achieve the goal. The Commonwealth games inclusion was a necessary step in the process, but from there it took another 11 years of development of both mens and womens RU (the full game, not just 7’s) in over 70 countries to meet the minimum IOC qualifying standards.

      And ‘beating RL to the punch’ as you put it was not why the IRB went to all the trouble of lobbying the IOC for so many years, it was always about doing what was best for the sport.

      Oh and one more point. The IRB is almost entirely funded by the retained earnings form the RWC. It is those funds that allow the IRB to support and fund developing RU nations, not ‘as you suggest ‘administrators who are willing to put their hands in their own pockets’.

      • druzik says:

        Thanks for the info.

        I have always said that Rugby League can learn a lot from the way Union is governed.

        Are you involved in RU in any shape or form Rick?

  15. Rick Farr says:

    Not directly Dru I’m a businessman (I sponsor a local RU team), but I played both codes at school. I enjoy both sports, and don’t really understand those on both sides who can’t appreciate the positives in both codes.

    I would like to add some balance to a certain posters view of the relationship between the two codes, and point out that there are many examples around the world of resource sharing and co-operation between the two codes, particularly in developing nations.

    Although there can be animosity at times
    it tends to be localized and often the result of personal conflicts, and more likely to happen in mature sports markets, but there is no evidence of a widespread conspiracy on the part of one sport to prevent the growth of the other.

    • druzik says:

      Rick, there is a lot of historical animosity, many people still do remember pre 1995… and its on both sides hence the animosity between both codes amongst many fans of both Union and League.

      However you are right, in general there is no over all conspiracy, however I have been witness in Europe to many dirty tactics from Union against Leagu, tactics that do hark back to the bad old days where players are threatened from being banned etc… its there and its dangerous not to recognise that it is there as well.

      Also I have been witness to the two codes being able to co-exist and co-share even, so as you say, its all needs to be in a balanced view. But you have some great notes there. Thanks for posting.

  16. Rick Farr says:

    I agree that those attitudes do exist in places (more often from the RU camp), I guess the point I am making is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The world is big enough for both sports to thrive.

    There is no directive being passed down from the IRB to reinforce any anti-RL sentiments, so it’s not a matter of policy but more of circumstances and personalities.

    Just for the record, I am interested in learning more about the state of both Rugby codes in Russia and other former Soviet states. I am a Kiwi but I’ve worked with Russians/Soviets for over 25 years now and even speak Russian(conversant not fluent). Any info from would be much appreciated.

  17. Chris Sanders says:

    Get hold of John Slade Rick!He’s very good and easy to deal with!

  18. Chris Sanders says:

    But my argument Rick is that Rugby League has featured at the World Youth Games at 13 aside which is the Junior Olympics and it goes down in the history books,yet Rugby Union has never,ever featured at that level of Olympic competition in any shape or form.
    The RRL pushed for this in 1998 and finally got it largely thanks to former Board Member Martin Kearney and only Australia sent teams to Moscow for the World Youth Games,where it was featured as a demonstration sport and it went down well with the IOC Officials,yet our administrators all over the World rubbished it!
    People also forget that the Olympic Rugby 7’s is only restricted to the top 12 Nations in Brazil for the Olympics in 2016 and a lot of Countries that have put all their eggs in the one basket,may miss out in the final analysis!

  19. Interested Observer says:

    Well said Rick. Your comment of “that there are many examples around the world of resource sharing and co-operation between the two codes, particularly in developing nations” is spot on. I’ve been fortunate enough to play both codes at an international level and love both games. It is a shame there is often so much animosity between the codes.

    RL in the USA would not have succeeded back in the late 90’s if it weren’t for both codes sharing players (often whole teams for that matter), playing kit/jumpers, fields etc etc. This hasn’t changed a great deal since then. Take the BC Sharks for example. Since their inception they have played as the Hibernian RFC for the RU season, then the vast majority of guys play as the Sharks. This is a great way to develop the game and introduce new players to RL.

    The same thing is happening now in places like Norway, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden. Scott Edwards of the Spartacus RFC in Gothenburg started Sweden RL a couple of years ago and is building an awareness of the sport through RU contacts and players. The Spartacus guys make up the bulk of the local RL team as well and they are helping spread the game and get players north in Stockholm interested.

    That good spirit between codes needs to exist and will go a long way to helping develop RL in emerging and developing areas.

  20. Rick Farr says:

    Your argument is one of cause and effect, you stated that RU ‘cottoned onto the idea’ of IOC inclusion (or re-inclusion) because of the 1998 world youth games. Not true, the IRB had been actively courting the idea of full Olympic re-inclusion for many decades prior, and had begun the process in earnest in 1994. The fact that RU has not featured at the World Youth Games also tends to suggest they didn’t emulate RL and followed a different path (one they set out on much earlier).

    And what is the point of talking it down, isn’t that being a bit churlish? So what if only 12 nations are competing (there will also be qualifiers to build interest), fact is RU will be there on the worlds biggest sporting stage. As you are aware GB will represent the four home nations and almost certainly qualify.

    Those 12 nations will also be evenly spread from the five continents allowing emerging RU nations such as the US, China, hosts Brazil and quite possibly Russia an opportunity at a medal.

    The US Rugby Union has just announced it has contracted its entire RU 7’s team on a full time basis making them fully professional, living and training at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Chula Vista, California. This is the first significant development in RU 7s resulting from the IOCs 2009 announcement. No doubt there will be more to follow.

  21. Rick Farr says:

    Good points IO, I really would like to see views like yours presented more often in Blogs and the Mass Media, they are very positive and constructive.

    Building synergy in developing markets between the two codes makes good sense (in an ideal world of course), it would be great to see a better level of co-operation-reading your comments makes me very enthusiastic about the future of both codes in the US.

  22. Chris Sanders says:

    Rick Farr!Do you want a job on the RLIF cas you have got some idea??

    • Rick Farr says:

      Chris, enough people hate me. For now I’ll stick to being an internet-know-all who thinks he can solve all the worlds problems on Blogs.

      Seriously though, I really think that the future for the two codes in developing markets is joint ventures at club level.

  23. Chris Sanders says:

    The Chinese Rugby Union 7’s team is training at College Rifles RU ground here in Auckland and they been there for a month and we are well aware the emphasis some countries are placing on this extravaganza.
    Martin Kearney originally came up with the idea of having a Olympic Rugby League 7’s event in 1992 and because he priod of time,he also told the Union was also boss of the Moscow Magicans Rugby Union Club in Moscow during that crowd about his great idea,especially the wigs on the IRB and they stole the idea off him,just like the IRB stole the idea of a World Cup off us in 1987,33 years after Rugby League staged the original World Cup in France in 1954!And what about the University Rugby League World Cup that both Bud lisle and Johnny Haynes started off here in Auckland in 1986,2 years before Rugby Union had their first one in France.
    We all know what the 5 rings stand for, but there’s still no guarantees that the countries you mentioned above, will even be there in Brazil in 2016, as some of those Countries like Russia aren’t even regulars on the current Rugby Union World 7’s circuit!
    All Olympic Rugby Union 7’s does is promote RL cas our incompetent RL administrators clearly can’t and that’s the big problem in the game!!

    • Chris Sanders says:

      And why would we want to hate you Mark.Welcome aboard! You talk a lot of sense too!I sorry I got mixed up above and hopefully Daniel will delete the whole thing but Rugby Union pinches a lot of good ideas off us yet they are smart enough to turn it around to their advantage!The 1954 RLWC is one and the 1986 University World Cup was another.
      They know how to make hay while the sun is out.Matin Kearney originally came up with the Olympic idea for 7’s in 1992 and he told a lot of RU folk of his grand idea,especially some IRB wigs and that’s how the idea was born.
      We may agree and differ but we respect you Mark and I wish we had a more like you in our game!

  24. Rick Farr says:

    It’s been interesting chatting with you Chris, I’m not entirely sure what your position is, but you seem to be trying to argue that everything achieved by the IRB over the last century was in fact stolen from Rugby League.

    But those same achievements such as the Olympics inclusion are in fact hardly of any consequence, and actually only benefit Rugby League (I have no idea how you arrived at that conclusion, and quite frankly have no interest in how you arrived there).

    Good day to you sir, and Dru keep up the good work I enjoy reading your blog. Pity about some of your house guests.

  25. Chris Sanders says:

    Don’t get me wrong Rick!The people on the IRB are good and of course Rugby League was professional before Rugby Union was and I am afraid it’s a fact!
    It’s sad that want to leave as you got something to offer!

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