Living on the edge – footballers under threat in Russia

“We’ll pay 20,000rbs on the contract and another 10,000rbs black (into the hand),” the head coach of a Division 2 West club told us.

“Make it 30 clean and we’ve a deal,” my colleague and registered lawyer replied. We all looked at the player, a former Russian Youth International and lost sheep. He looked at me. “Alan, if you say sign, I’ll sign.”

Russia Poland

One of the last half-dozen straws that broke my back in the day-to-day grind of sports was what happened to another player with whom I went through the same process.

He signed for a D2 Central team and received 20,000rbs on his contract and another 20,000rbs black. As a favour to his Dad I helped him negotiate the deal.

He got a break alright, as well as cuts and bruises which left him in a regional hospital for three days. I was in Voronezh and visited him. His story was nothing uncommon. No pay from November and a showdown with the Sports Director in April.

After some heated conversation the SD left the office, ostensibly to speak with the Secretary, and returned with a solution. If you’ve ever been hit with a Bandy (hockey) stick you’ll know it leaves a mark.

If you’re struck from behind, knocked to the ground and beaten until you cry out for mercy, then you probably know how a 20-year-old left winger from Moscow felt.

I asked why he didn’t go straight to the police, which I did once I left the hospital room. Which didn’t work out well for either of us. He hasn’t had an offer to play with a professional club since and after a 2am home visit from a club official I took the penultimate step away from my work.

News broke today (23.09) of the latest victim of financial swindling and physical abuse from a Russian pro club. This is not new yet is ignored for more “hip” issues, especially ones that don’t rock the boat. Yet the perpetrators of these crimes are still in positions of power, including the cowardly Sports Director who didn’t even have the balls to face his victim.

The attack on Khimik Dzerzhinsk’s 22-year-old striker, Viktor Ivlev, came to light thanks to Championat, which very carefully compiled the material so as to not leave itself open to a blowback.

The assault, by two unknown males, occurred on September 13th after the youngster had pressed to have his salary paid or an official reason (on headed notepaper) given as to why not. This after sustained bullying and isolation (including being ejected from the team hotel).

This, like all other cases, will slide away as those involved with ordering the assault are too powerful and too connected. And it goes back to the cancer at the root of Russian football. Just look at the 2 videos this brave youngster filmed, the first when he was being thrown out of his living quarters for “not paying his bill” and the second when he’s sneered at and threatened by coaches for daring to ask why is he being told to train on his own. As he is told in the 2nd video “You’re not the first.”

Apart from the nature of Russian society in relation to human rights, not a single Russian club is economically viable, so they, like Blanche Dubois, rely on the kindness of strangers. In Russia this means government and business leaders, which are one and the same. Confusing? Okay, short example – two weeks ago local elections took place in Voronezh (as well as other regions in Russia). Naturally there was no dead air in the International media and so they passed by with little mention.

The vast majority of candidates who won in highly corrupted and “managed” elections were from United Russia, all of these hold positions of power in education (though are unfit to educate) or business. The business owners to a person are not so patriotic as they’ll pay taxes, one certain Voronezh native has more than 3000 workers in his companies.

Of this amount less than 100 receive fully “white” salaries on which taxes are paid and legal rights are observed. When he panicked and decided to have a mass cull in Autumn 2014, workers expected to receive decent pay-offs, only to find that they were entitled to less than 20% of their salaries and weren’t eligible for social welfare. Upon objecting they were threatened, sneered at and told “take us to court”.

These are the “professionals” who run Russia and their football/sports clubs. That they should be expected to recognise the rights of a mere worker who has no power on or off the field, is a nonsense.

And it’s not just down the bottom of the pro pile that this happens. We’d the ridiculous case of the Chechen linesman who assaulted an Amkar Perm youth player two years ago, with the thug getting a fine and ban, but the player receiving a fine and four match ban. Had this not been caught on film, nothing would have happened.

Four years ago, the famous case of Montenegrin International Nikola Nikezic made headlines when it finally emerged (into world media) that he’d been beaten into signing a release form by Kuban Krasnodar henchman, in front of the club president. Kuban paid 180,000euros compensation nothing more to see here, take the t-shirt and shag off.

The same happens in all pro sports here, from Volleyball to Hockey to Rugby and in the workplace. It is simply a disgusting strand in the decaying fabric of Russian business that goes largely unreported outside of Russia as it almost never effects the Western ex-pats and media.

It’s not just a Russian problem, in Malta I was shocked when foreign players at my old club were signing two contracts so the club avoided taxes, and have an out if the player didn’t work out. It was even worse for the locals who, mostly, leave the game owed months and often years worth of salaries. These situations occur there with the blessing of the MFA and here with the RFS.

Knowing this youngsters still dream of signing big contracts and giving money to their family and getting that move to a big league. When players see one of their own being bullied, intimidated or ripped off, they put their heads down and say nothing. They’ve been educated and coached by clubs, and trained in a society where the culture of “Keep your mouth shut or it’ll be worse for you” abounds. Agents tell them to sign and shut up, after all, the agents have dreams too.

So what was my answer to our client? “No, it’s all white or don’t sign.” The head coach must have hated me so much, yet he was over a barrel. He needed a young, cheap and experienced centre back, and we’d an offer from another club.

After a little rant about how lucky we were to have an offer, he left to speak with the Secretary. We three sat facing his desk, our backs to the door.

He returned with a solution – “50,000rbs signing bonus, cash, off contract. 25,000rbs a month clean, on contract”. I nodded to our client and he signed that evening.

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian based sports journalist and consultant, working with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports FM in Moscow, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018.

3 thoughts on “Living on the edge – footballers under threat in Russia

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