The only Russian election that matters

Last Sunday we’d a major false start. A Russian election (for parliament) which didn’t stir even the coldest blood.

An uninterested electorate, ballot-stuffing to make the numbers look more respectable and a non-existent “liberal” opposition.

It was the stuff of nightmares for the Moscow-based (and -bound) foreign correspondents who don’t seem to quite grasp that while there is discord in the provinces, the locals turn to VVP for help. Not Navalny or Khodorkovsky.

When one “liberal” candidate in Tim’s home area, Taganka, greeted us on Friday evening I realised this was a truly Russian election.


“Vote for Baranova, for change,” she said. I took the newspaper/flyer for the candidate, who I would later find out had quite a rep with foreign media.

Tim and I went down into the metro and as he read text on the wall of the train, I checked the Khodorkovsky-backed blonde lady’s Twitter account. It didn’t exist.

This “face of the Russian protest movement” was more Renua than renewal in her social media and support from the electorate.

This is common here when a lazy foreign media back horses they like to drink tea and cocktails with in ex-pat bars and cafes.

You don’t want a farmer from Rostov or factory worker from Nizhny Tagil. They won’t, presumably, be able to tell Oolong from Barry’s or a Cabernet from a Carlsberg, probably.

So after a damp squib of a regular Russian election, we’re now treated to the real deal. The election for the Presidency of the Russian Football Union.

This is a Russian Election which actually means something. Yet will be ignored by foreign media as it doesn’t involve a) racism, b) doping, c) scandal, d) bribery or e) VVP. Yet it has three of those.

The Russian Election Runners

Igor Efremov

This one pulls up before crossing the first fence. The Kaliningrad native was a well known Futsal player with five caps for the CIS team in 1992.

Since retiring in 2000 he’s worked in a number of posts, reaching a surprising summit of President of the “Graveyard”, also known as the Football National League (FNL), in 2010.

It says little for his stewardship that the overblown and overpopulated mess of a competition is still in existence.

Yet anyone who had an interest in the long-term interest of Russian football would have burned the house down rather than stay in a well salaried position.

He represents the only scandal-free candidate in the race. Expect Igor to shy from the first fence and go back to the day job.

Sergey Pryadkin

An experienced stayer with a bit of stamina, though prone to the odd miscue.

Sergey heads up the Russian Premier League and this isn’t his first time at the dance.

I was surprised in 2012 when he missed out on beating Nikolai Tolstykh in the Presidential race, though many who voted against Pryadkin that day were soon disappointed by their man’s performance.

In 2012 I penned an article on the race with less than glowing words for Sergey, or more pointedly, his brother and their agency business.

He is the typical politician, involved in UEFA committees, agent oversight committees and had his run-in with the Russian Footballers, Trainers “and Agents” Union in 2011.

Pryadkin’s fraternal relationship was called into question by rival agents – Grammatikov and Leonchenko – which did damage his reputation before the RFU election in 2012.

Sergey is a good each-way bet if the favourites falter, though at 55 he still have a couple of decades to try his luck.


Valeri Gazzaev

As a player he won the League and Cup with Dynamo Moscow, as a coach he won an unlikely Premier League with Alania Vladikavkaz.

With CSKA Moscow he was one of the best paid coaches in Europe (before commissions were taken into account) and rewarded the club with three leagues, three cups, three Super Cups and the UEFA Cup in 2004/05.

To top it off he was UEFA Coach of the Year in 2004/05. What could possibly go wrong?

Joining Dynamo Kiev in 2009, he was expected to repeat his Moscow magic, yet apart from a Ukrainian Super Cup, he was a failure.

He returned (in 2011) to his hometown club, Alania, and the story takes a dark turn. Arriving as President he elevated his son to the position of head coach – Vladimir was just 31 at the time.

With his son as the face, Valeri proceeded to do what coaches here do best – make money from players.

The curious case of Ioan Mera, who Valeri signed for $4million from obscurity in Romania, only to illegally sack him, ending in Alania having to pay an additional $1.24 million has passed by unnoticed.

All we can say is, Valeri is one of the richest men in Russian football.

His cash for votes offer is well known in this election. He has intimated that Gazprom are backing him, though this is more wishful thinking than fact.

The highest amount he has offered for a vote is $150,000 to a regional delegate at a meeting in Moscow yesterday.

He has some votes in the bag and is, frighteningly, the “fans favourite”, mainly because, as we know, fans don’t give a shit and his opponents are as odious as he.

So a vote for Valeri is the long-awaited protest vote the “west” has waited for.

Though this is more along the lines of the dangerous Zhirinovsky than some imagined peacenik. Gazzaev will battled to the end and might just nick it.

Vitali Mutko

A man who can is the whipping boy for whoever wants it.

If we didn’t know better, we’d say Vitali is closer to an English Conservative MP than a full-blooded Putin.

Vitali has carried the can for the woes of Russian sport and is VVP’s favourite firefighter.

He hails from the Sobchak stable in St. Petersburg, as does the invincible VVP, and led the FIFA World Cup 2018 winning bid.

This feisty gelding has cunning and guts, never shying from a jump and gets stuck in when needs be.

He’s on good terms with Pryadkin, so if the Premier League man falls at the final fence, his backers will switch mid-race.

Vitali is accused of being many things, a big breakfast enthusiast, a doping sponsor and even a bear fancier.

Ultimately, Vitali doesn’t give a feck. He is a FIFA bigwig, a power in European football and someone who has had the unenviable task of trying to overhaul and clean up Russian sports.

His role as Sports Minister will leave him in good with voters.

Regional votes are key and the non-runners will throw their lot in with him as he pays the bills.

Not being in Vitali’s good graces means no sympathetic ear when you hit the winter break and your cupboard is empty.

Vitali’s track record in bringing events to Russia and spreading the love to the regions sees him as the favourite.

Though, as in Aintree, it’s not always good to lead the field.


Russian election rules

All regional football federations as well as the leagues, footballers union and other football organisations (Invalid, Women’s Football etc.) have a vote in this Russian election.

In effect 325 voices are there to be heard. To win in the first round a candidate needs 75% or 244 votes.

Since this is highly unlikely to happen, there will be a second round.

Last time out there were seven horses in the race. Tolstykh was a neck in front of Pryadkin after the first circuit and after four fell, Tolstykh surged home with 148 of a possible 273 votes, just over the 50% needed.

Pryadkin will not come so close this time. I had the review here.

The race

In 2010 there was a desperate battle for glory, won by another Sobchak stable runner Sergey Fursenko.

Then it needed more than a single round of voting and it looks likely to be the same again.

Efremov will drop out early, his meagre votes going to Mutko as those backing the FNL head won’t side with Pryadkin (professional hatred) and few like Gazzaev (air of corruption).

It then comes down to what happens with Pryadkin’s votes.

The RFPL head honcho doesn’t go down well in the regions and despite a pretty decent election platform, he’s unloved.

The majority of his votes will go the way of Mutko, mainly out of self-interest.

And then there will be two. Speaking with seven voters, six are firmly Mutko, one is going for Pryadkin.

Gazzaev is seen as “revolutionary”, though revolutionary in that he’ll profit from the post of President while in office

This, and his dubious past, leaves him well short of the required 75% in the first round.

When Efremov and Pryadkin are gone, it will be a dash to get in excess of 163 votes, and influencing this is the Don-ary feeling among voters.

On one hand you’ve an insider who needs to answer some questions about disappearing information and important materials.

And then you’ve an outsider who shouts loud and has a very chequered past with dubious financial resources.

Ultimately it will come down to who believes that backing VVP’s buddy is better than throwing open the door to the carpetbaggers.

Vitali is a safe pair of hands to look after the football festivals in 2017 and 2018, if he is allowed stay in office long enough.


I’m tipping Russia’s own breakfast roll man to win this Russian election. More with heart than head.

Handing the keys over to Valeri is akin to asking a blind geriatric to perform your vasectomy with a butter knife.

Let that image linger, wince and then know just how bad things could get!

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian based sports journalist, commentator and consultant, working with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports 3.0, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018 and 2019 Rugby World Cup.

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