The inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the Olympics may have claimed league’s first casualty with Russia’s premier league side, the Moscow –based Locomotive club, asking to switch back to rugby for the 2010 season.
Locomotive switched from rugby to league in 1991 because the players wanted to be paid, and as rugby was then amateur, could not remain in the code.
So they joined a newly formed six team Russian Rugby League, formed by the sports journalist, Igor Taturian.
Since 2003, Locomotive, has been virtually unbeatable and has won every year from 2003 to 2009. They have either been undefeated or lost only one game each season. The only other club which threatens them is Kazan Arrows. These two clubs are the only league clubs in Russia where players are actually paid
Because of the Olympics, Locomotive approached the Russian Rugby Union and asked to be included in the national Sevens competition. However, the Russian RU said that it could only happen if Locomotive also played in the 15- aside competition.
The CEO of Locomotive, Eugene Klebanov, said in the Russian paper, Soviet Sport, of the switch back to rugby after 18 years: “The best will play in the rugby-7. Our youth team will continue to play in in the championship of Russia of ‘Regbilig’’. Another group will play in a National Championship Rugby-15.”
The Chairman of Locomotive, Alexander Popov who is well known to Australians for his time as a swimmer at the AIS, welcomed the switch. So far, no comment has been made by the Rugby Union of Russia.
How long will it be before the Arrows switch codes and also Locomotive juniors?
Russian league withdrew earlier this year from a European competition and this switch could prove to be the beginning of the end of the league experiment in Russia.