Divorced from reality – A truly Russian break up

Nikolai Tolstykh RussiaWhile attending a gala invite only ballet this month Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (or VVP to his friends) stood alongside his long-serving wife and announced that they were divorcing. The reasons given (by both) were that as President of the country he was too busy and travelling too much to have a normal life, so they were going their separate ways after almost 30 years of marriage. It took over from the Guus Hiddink – will he won’t he – affair in Dagestan (or rather the training base in the Moscow region) and the national teams loss in Portugal.

If ever a man was so selfless it is VVP, sacrificing his marriage for the sake of taking the heat off Fabio Capello and Anzhi’s confused management. A man who gave up his face to appear on women’s panties and who has steadily grown to be the new father of the Russian Republic. Which makes it all clear, or not quite. This year around 30 Russian Duma (Parliament) Deputies appear to have divorced, quite a number and considering the new law regarding asset declaration, legally separating after signing it all over to the other half, it makes financial sense. So VVP’s estimated $43billion (yes, billion) fortune could well be sitting in his wife’s name while he prepares to lead the country into the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

The above leads almost perfectly into the meat of the article, a little hit and move to prepare for the real insanity in Russian football. Since his ascension to the throne RFS President Tolstykh has been in one battle after the next with “stakeholders”, the longest running one being against the Premier League divas. In many ways he is correct, though in others he is standing on shaky ground. Both organisations have been battling to grab sponsors at the expense of one another. One notable multinational was subjected to rival bids from each yet when they requested a solid offer with what the action plan would be to get full bang for their buck, neither governing body responded. The multinational followed up with calls and emails, requesting the promised information and documents, however nothing has emerged. Add to this the fact that individual clubs have been looking for the same sponsor’s cash it makes it more confusing, with marketing agencies dashing between the legs looking for a piece of the pie offering clubs, without those same clubs knowing or even allowing, in partner packages that don’t seem to make any overall worth to the multinational in the end.

It is nothing new in Russia, or indeed Eastern Europe. Having had generations of handout rule from central government (from national/federal to local levels) there is little incentive for any body to make an effort to generate money on the ground or even be responsible or accountable for how they disperse the cash. I’ll give two brief personal examples from 2008, months before the financial crisis, and from 2010. In 2008 my former company submitted a full costing as part of a tender to operate a youth football tournament in Russia. It was to bring in sponsors and was costed for five years. The tournament, for eight to ten year olds, was to be based on local schools, would be mixed and involved two local senior clubs combining their coaching staff and some players who volunteered their time. It was GAA-style in Russia. We waited, and waited and waited some more for the kick off, then in April were told the funds were being dispersed to one of the clubs involved and that they would operate the project. Said club blew the money on an attempt to stay in the Russian First Division and went bust a short time later. The project never started and nobody was held to account. Worse for us, we were never paid for the research, compilation and general ground work. The company lawyer refused to take any action, apart from some strongly worded letters, as she felt there would be nothing to gain.

In 2010 I co-authored a child safety scheme as part of a “Fit Kids” project that was based on well-regarded and respected research and results across a number of countries. The other author, a former Russian International footballer and A-licence coach, wanted to introduce child welfare into sports clubs and to remove the “normative” testing in the failed Russian schools physical education program. In this testing all students are expected to run up to 5kms or risk failing their class. There is no preparation for this, no build up and precious little in the way of physical education shown to students. My co-author stood to lose much from both element of the project, he was running the gauntlet of poorly regulated children’s sports clubs and his standing with the government would sink by addressing flaws in the education system. The Ministry of Education rep’s listened and thought it was wonderful. The Russian Olympic Council rep said it was inspiring and the lady who was in from the Government told us that she wished it had introduced far sooner, when she herself was a young gymnast and future Olympian.

A government linked company were awarded the project and more than a million dollars in funding to perform further research and a pilot project. The project company, set up for the purpose of receiving the contract and funds, was liquidated in December 2012 – I was informed today (11-06). Do I need to add that the project never happened despite the funds being paid out? And that Olympic Champion who wanted to see it happen no matter what? She spoke to us about how she had been bullied by coaches, was not given proper diet and nutrition advice and felt that there was much to be done to ensure child safety and wellbeing in the Russian system. This was from a girl who failed a drugs test because (supposedly) a national team assistant went to a local pharmacy to buy a supplement that was fake and contained more diuretics than usual in it. As the World Athletics Championships draw closer, those welfare guidelines are badly needed as more and more local athletes fall afoul of the testers and miss out on impressing the home crowds.

And so the end of this piece is near, the former rhythmic gymnast who backed our project so fully is very newsworthy again. Leaving aside her two Olympic, 14 World and 25 European medals, the biggest prize Alina Kabaeva landed was a seat in the State Duma and, if “sources” are to be believed, two children with VVP and a long-standing love affair. Being twice her age is not going to go down well with his adoring fans/voters, especially middle aged women who’ve been dumped for, women half their age. One local football journalist wrote that everything is falling into place for 2018. Gazprom and Putin will guide Zenit to the Champions League title in 2016, when he marries his younger (though not by too much) wife and together they will dazzle the World in 2018. He also added, tongue in cheek, that VVP could yet earn a call up to the National team to add some much needed guile, ruthlessness, decision making and overall leadership once Andrei retires. Somehow in Russia, that doesn’t seem so far-fetched!

Author Details

Alan Moore
Alan Moore

A Russia-based Sports Journalist and Consultant, worked with major sports clubs including:- Spartak Moscow, Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt. Boxed Internationally, played semi-pro football and worked full-time in sports management/consultancy from 2003-13. First published professionally on football in 1990, first Russian league match in 1991, now hosting Capital Sports on Capital FM, Moscow and the Capital Sports Stadium Shows at the RZD Arena and writing the odd article. Director of the Russian State Social University College in Moscow. And to make things more fun, he produces and hosts #ChampTalks for UNESCO, Moscow's Tolerance Centre and Capital FM.

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