Russian rugby league at crisis point

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Tas Baitieri, the international rugby league development manager, has been in Moscow to hold a meeting regarding the dire straits that Russian rugby league finds itself.

In the past 12 months, RL Russia has dramatically reduced its international activities. It did not sent a team to the Military World Cup 2008 in Australia, did not send a side to Serbia as intended, and did not participate in the European Nations Cup of 2009.

Outlining his plans, he wants Russia to field a side in the following tournaments: the 2010 Euro Shield, 2011 World Cup Qualification Games, 2012 Women’s World Cup in England and the International 9s in Samoa.

At the meeting, Baitieri is quoted as saying, “You all are responsible for the way the game is played and progresses in Russia and unless we work together to achieve this, it will surely disappear. The sport is too good a game for the many participants that play and wonderful to watch.”

This may be fine for the international scene but there are horrible events in Russia itself which could cause the game to implode. There were dramatic implications for the game in Russia when Rugby Sevens was admitted to the Olympic Games and saw several clubs, including the champions for the past eight years, Locomotive, and the highly rated Kazan Arrows switch to rugby union.

Alexander Denisov, director of the FRLR, announced that in an order dated 20 January 2010, the Ministry of Sport excluded league from the state register of sports in Russia. This is a huge setback to the code.

Now, a problem from within has arisen. In 1991, Edgard Taturian, coach of the Soviet Rugby team, with his journalist son, Igor, split from the established rugby union game and took some teams to found the Russian rugby league. The game grew and became entrenched as the Russian Rugby League Federation.

After the turmoil of the FRLR losing clubs and players this year, the same Edgard Taturian has again caused a split, this time with the Rugby League Federation, to form an Association of Rugby League Clubs. He has already indicated that the following clubs have joined his association: Nevsky Gate, Vereyskaya Bears, Thrashers, North Moscow, Nara, Otradnoe and Spartak-Losinka.

His aim is to get his the sport re-registered by the sports ministry and his association as the controlling body.

So far, the FRLR has not announced the teams that will be playing in their 2010 season.

A Russian once said to me “that when you have one Russian, you have peace, but with two, you have revolution”.

It appears this is the case at the moment with rugby league in Russia but there are a group who are fighting to stop the total collapse of the game.

Tas Baitieri & Julia Bennison photo

Depicted are Tas Baitieri, International Rugby League development manager and Julia Bennison, East European co-ordinator for the RLEF outside the television station NTV-PLUS

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