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Is Russian Football Doomed To Hyper-Centralization And Defeat? – OpEd


Countries like the UK and Germany which have strong regionally-based teams do better in international competition than those like Russia which don’t, as the recent defeat of Russia’s national team in the Euro-2020 competition highlights and its low ranking among the best teams of the world, Vadim Shtepa says.

            But unfortunately, many Russians do not yet see the link between hyper-centralization and defeat and the alternative one between decentralization and victory in sports or in other aspects of life, even though there are plenty of examples of the latter to show them the error of their ways (

Great Britain has four regional teams, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, although only the first three qualified to take part in the European competition; but Russia, although far larger than the UK, does not have a Siberian team or one from many other regions, although a decade ago it did.

The reason the UK has so many teams is that it had those teams before FIFA was created and insisted that it continue to be allowed to have them after that event. No one wanted to lose the best teams on such a technicality and so the British were allowed to retain four teams instead of having a single national one.

 “Only at the Olympic Games, and not even at all of them, the four British commands were united into a single team,” Shtepa continues, a pattern that football players in other countries like Russia can only envy not only for what it says about sports but about the political systems as well.

“Football, like other types of sports, is all the same connected with politics. For Great Britain with its long-standing policy of devolution … the existence of four commands looks completely natural.” But for Russia, which is “ever more evolving toward absolute centralism” and in which the federation is increasingly “nominal,” it seems quite the contrary.

If Russia were a different place, a Siberian team could be assembled and participate. That Siberia isn’t in Europe is not a problem. After Brexit, neither is the UK, at least in certain respects. But Siberian football faces hard times as do teams from all the regions beyond the Moscow beltway.

The Novosibirsk “Siberian” team was a power 15 years ago, but like many things in the regions, it declined over the last decade; and in 2019, it was declared bankrupt and ceased to exist. The money and the players went to Moscow teams. But money isn’t enough to ensure victory.

After all the coach of the Russian team is paid twice what the coach of the Belgian team is, and the Russian team lost while the Belgian team won.

“In Russian football’s premier league, there are no commands from Siberian cities, and the North-West is represented exclusively by Zenith” whose advertising suggests it isn’t so much a St. Petersburg unit as a Gazprom team. Teams from Russia would do better if there were more of them from the regions.

They would likely rate higher than the 38th place the Russian national team now occupies, and they might in the future even win.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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