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MPs urge Russian state companies to stop sponsoring foreign sports clubs

April 29, 2014, 18:07 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© © ITAR-TASS/Andrei Kholmov

MOSCOW, April 29. /ITAR-TASS/. Demands that state companies stop sponsoring sports clubs are becoming louder in Russia. Senators were the first to voice the initiative, and now the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, is drafting relevant proposals. Experts believe that the move will hardly be put into practice.

Communist Party deputy Vadim Solovyov has started drafting a bill to ban Russian state companies from financing foreign sports clubs, the Izvestia daily reported. Solovyov believes that if investments in foreign sports are prohibited, the Russian money will be injected into the development of domestic sports or into social projects.

Solovyov recalled the situation with the FC Schalke 04, which, under pressure from the German political establishment which disagreed with Russia’s policy, ignored an invitation to Moscow although it had given a preliminary consent. Russian state energy giant Gazprom has been the key sponsor of the club from the city of Gelsenkirchen for the past few years, providing annual assistance worth $20 million to the Germans.

Big Russian companies mainly pose as sponsors of sports teams inside the country. But a number of them also support foreigners. First and foremost, this is Gazprom, whose controlling stake is owned by the state.

In 2010, Gazprom struck a five-year agreement with Serbian FC Crvena Zvezda worth €4 million annually, and raised payments to €4.5 million in 2013. Bulgarian FC Levski Sofia is also holding talks with Gazprom. The Russian energy giant will also become the official sponsor of Belarusian hockey players from next season.

Russian state-controlled pipeline operator Transneft spokesman Igor Dyomin said the initiative to spend funds currently being used to finance foreign football clubs on domestic sports is reasonable. He said, however, that such investments are often explained by the fact that state corporations have many foreign subsidiaries, which prompts them to maintain relations with other states. He said that the situation is like this in the case with Gazprom.

Representatives of Russian soccer also say funds should be spent in a “more patriotic” way. Former forward of FC Zenit St. Petersburg, Alexander Panov, believes that by sponsoring foreign clubs, state companies deprive Russian athletes of an opportunity to develop. “State companies should not finance foreign teams. For our country, this is wasted money. It would be far more correct to send the funds to children’s and youth football clubs,” he said.

MP Solovyov’s initiative is not the first attempt by lawmakers to limit state companies’ spending on sports. In November 2013, a number of members of the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, including renowned hockey player Vyacheslav Fetisov, submitted to the State Duma a bill banning state natural monopolies from financing sports clubs.

“Consumers of natural monopolies’ services justly note that they do not have to pay for the purchase of expensive football players by the club. Expenditures of hundreds of millions of rubles do not conform to the needs of consumers. This affects the tariffs for services provided by the above-mentioned entities,” an explanatory note to the draft law said.

Initially, the idea to ban financing by state monopolies of sports clubs was voiced in 2013 by Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Lavrov. He was outraged at the words of the management of the Russian Railways monopoly, which sponsors FC Lokomotiv Moscow, FC Lokomotiv Moscow (beach soccer), the eponymous hockey club in the city of Yaroslavl and a volleyball club in Novosibirsk, as well as basketball club Lokomotiv-Kuban, that in case tariffs on natural monopoly services are frozen, thousands of employees will have to be fired.

Nikolai Larin, the director general of the Chertanovo soccer school, says the ban on financing of sports clubs by state companies is premature. “Clubs need to be restricted in spending. Why do they buy expensive foreign legionaries on state money? These legionaries block the road for our athletes,” he said.

The legislators’ proposals are probably true but untimely, believes Alexander Uritsky, the president of basketball club Spartak St. Petersburg. “State companies should spend funds reasonably, but financing of sports can’t be banned completely,” he said.


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