In the wake of Vladimir Putin's election victory, the spotlight has once again turned on the Russian political system. But as Domm Norris points out, politics is inescapable in Russian football too.
Football, bloody football. The game that is the love of millions is stuck in the hands of ‘democratic’ dictators. You can’t escape their tirades, it’s simply impossible.
Vladimir Putin’s election back to head of Russian hierarchy - a position he only ever truly lost in name - as President is a deeply troubling issue that has dramatic social and political consequences - although those are a discussion for another day, and website, entirely. However his presence at the fore of Russian politics does show just how politicised the world of football has become, with Russia being the prime example.
Let’s not beat around the bush, Russian football is in a state. Corruption is rife, racism is the norm and violence is so common that the President of the Russian Premier League (RPL) was forced to issue a warning to fans that ‘clubs are tired of paying huge fines for the behavior of the fans’.
It’s fair to say that football across Europe has its fair share of issues, however in Russia’s case these are seemingly magnified by the nation’s growing prominence in the eye’s of those who can grant the ultimate power and authority, FIFA. The partnership is simply based upon two backward institutions who have paired together amid a wave of calls for modernity, and common sense, through adaptations to the laws of the game. It’s impossible to force change when the powers at be have no desire to move an inch, just ask Russian voters.
The politicisation of the game has been an inevitable process thanks to vast sums of money that have swelled within the sport over the past couple of decades. You may imagine that Russian football has been one of the main parties to benefit from such an extensive boom period. Spartak and CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg and, more recently, Anzhi Makhachkala have all found themselves swimming within an ocean of wealth however these clubs are the anomaly, as opposed to the norm.
Tom Tomsk’s recent financial woes, which have been ongoing for a number of years now, came to a head over the winter months to the point where the Putin, himself, weighed into the situation and forced the hand of a number of powerful investors who placed their money into the coffers of the club. A fine act of generosity, you may first imagine. How nice of such a high powered figure to come to the fore for a football club on the brink of extinction, on the precipice of being placed within the vast volumes of history. This is where you are wrong, dear reader, for this was not an act of sheer ‘niceness’ from one of the most despicable leaders in modern society.
The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, Bridget Kendall, recently appeared on state television in Tomsk to tell the, much disillusioned, city just why the western world was so suspicious of Russian democracy. She peddled the words of corruption and a lack of honesty, and countless people agreed. The city of Tomsk is a town dominated by young people, it’s a university town, who have increasingly, particularly since the previous election four years ago, discarded the political apathy of old and taken a side in proceedings. People had gradually begun to turn against the ‘Putinism’ that has for so long been the pillar upon which Russian society has been built.
It comes as no surprise therefore that Putin saw fit to try and stem the tide of opinion, in spite of the obvious fact that the voting within the election was far from democratically sound, by saving one of Siberia’s key sporting institutions in Tom Tomsk. He was the knight in shining armour who came riding into the sub minus temperatures on the back of state owned oil companies and pumped millions upon millions of roubles into the football club. Without the assistance of Putin all would have been lost for Tom Tomsk, and we would, most likely, presently find ourselves with a 15 team Premier League.
Football, it seems, has its finger on the political pulse however. Such was the fear of violence within the streets of Moscow in the wake of the election that Spartak’s match against Rubin was moved from Moscow to Kazan to avoid any possible ugly scenes making the headlines - out of sight, out of mind some would say. It was blanketed beneath law enforcement agencies feeling that such large crowds would be undesirable the day after an election, but you can’t help but feel that with the world’s eyes upon Moscow any potential hiccup was going to be uncompromisingly averted.
So football in Russia has once again fallen prey to the dirty hands of politics. FIFA remains firmly against the politicisation of football. Egypt felt the wrath of Sepp Blatter in the wake of the shocking scenes between Al Masry and Al Ahly fans - which left some 74 dead. ‘Football is for the people, the youth, to offer emotion and hope. We will never accept that it be used for political ends.’ But Sepp, what in heavens name are you going to do about the hosts of the 2018 World Cup? ‘Everything will be wonderful’ is what Blatter thinks, but when did this bumbling buffoon’s opinion make any sense at all?
Domm is a regular contributor to IBWM, and can be found on Twitter @footballglobe.