The North Caucasus is a place that has become connotative of various differing perceptions, from one extreme to the other. The sheer scale of poverty and bloodshed that has for so long haunted the region has helped to forge a widespread view that it remains one of the most volatile areas of Europe.
While Anzhi Makhachkala’s growing prominence has provided the North Caucasus with a slightly different image, where prosperity and wealth stand firmly at the fore. However for a region including the Republic of Dagestan – a place that the BBC labelled as being the ‘most dangerous place in Europe’ only last year – and Chechnya the former is a more definitive expression of its true nature.
As Vladimir Putin was ushered back into the Presidency on March 4th, the world was greeted with claims and accusations that the election was yet another expression of Russia’s lack of transparency, and ultimately corruption. The North Caucasus was at the centre of the storm as Putin garnered polls ranging from 99.76% in Chechnya and 93% in Dagestan leading to assertions that police in the region had forced the public to vote for Putin’s regime through threats of non payments of salaries and pensions. Moscow sought to stem the tide of the allegations by reminding the world that they had implemented cameras in polling stations to ensure that the vote could not possibly be rigged however such claims remain empty when placed against the polls of the North Caucasus.
It seems a coincidence, therefore, that football should find itself in the middle of corruption allegations for a match including a team from the North Caucasus, in Chechnya’s Terek Grozny. This is the club who shot to the attention of European football thanks to their appointment of Ruud Gullit as coach, accompanied by a string of high profile charitable events involving great footballers of times gone by – including a game including a ‘classic Brazil XI’ featuring the likes of Romario, Dunga, Bebeto and Cafu.
Terek Grozny’s recent fixture against FK Krasnodar at the latter’s shared home, the Kuban Stadium, raised a number of eyebrows for the manner in which the visitors managed to sweep aside their opponents, as well as a number of incidents in the match. The 1-3 scoreline – of which Terek’s handful of goals all occurred in the opening 20 minutes – failed to truly express the ebb and flow of the game itself as it was in fact a relatively even affair, of which you would say that Krasnodar forged the better openings. However football is a strange game whereby the best team on the day is not always the eventual victor and you could claim that Terek’s victory in Krasnodar was merely part of this strange phenomenon. Although the reputation of clubs from the North Caucasus serves to go before them when elements of doubt creep into the integrity of a suspicious looking result.
Terek’s victory served to be the most convenient outcome for both sides when you consider the positions of each outfit in the league table. Krasnodar are some 14 point clear of the relegation play off places and barring a miraculous swing in favour of the league’s strugglers and a severe downturn in their own fortunes then the club are merely playing out the remaining 10 games as a courtesy. Terek, on the other hand, desperately needed a victory in order to distance themselves from the dreaded relegation spots, which they could have so easily have found themselves dragged within. As it stands presently, however, Terek now have a 7 point buffer over Krylya Sovetov in 12th place and you would imagine that such a lead would be sufficient to see them avoid any potential heartbreak.
The convenience of the result was compounded by the manner in which the goals rolled in. Krasnodar’s defensive performance in the opening 20 minutes was abject at best, and downright non-existent at worst. Terek’s final goal was the point where proceedings began to turn dark due to Krasnodar’s goalkeeper, Nukri Revishvili, practically bundling the ball over his own line after Igor Lebedenko’s tame effort look destined to fall safely into the keeper’s grasp. This woefully inept opening to the game was further thrown into suspicion when Georgian forward Otar Martsvaladze ballooned a late penalty over the Terek goal in a manner that felt like an inevitability as he placed the ball on the spot.
It is difficult to grasp just whether the result of the match was indeed decided before a ball had even been kicked however the suspicions do not appear to be too wide of the mark. There is unlikely to be an investigation into the match thanks to the lack of fluctuation in betting patterns prior the match – which is a general trait when a match has been predetermined – however ‘dogovornyak’ – the trading of results – need not always been an attempt to win certain parties money through betting, particularly when Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov is involved.
The North Caucasus’ impossible situation is one which will, for the foreseeable future, impact upon the football clubs in and around the region. But, as it presently stands, there are very few safeguards in place to ensure that the Russian game is free from corruption. Ethics Committees are all well and good but if they lack the power to truly get beneath the surface, as well as suitably punish guilty parties, then football will continue to fall into disrepute. It’s a sorry situation and one that doesn’t look like being rectified any time soon.