Rugby league in Russia

Rugby league in Russia

Rugby league is a minor team sport in Russia. The Russian Rugby League Federation (RRLF) is the governing body of rugby league in Russia.

Russian Championship

"Main Article:" Russian ChampionshipThe Russian Championship (or Russian Super League or Championship of Russia) consists of 10 teams:
*Locomotive - Moscow
*Arsenal - Serpukhov
*Arrows- Kazan
*Energy - Kazan
*Vereya - Moscow Region
*Crystal - Rostov-on-Don
*Lestex - Saint-Petersburg
*Yoshkar-Ola - Mary El
*Spartak - Moscow
*Kosmos - Moscow Region

UK Challenge Cup

Two teams each year take part in the British Challenge Cup, along with four teams from France and Les Catalans, although the challenge cup is not considered to be a 'European Cup', more a domestic competition in the UK that invites these teams into the early rounds.


Early history

Rugby league was played in the Soviet Union prior to World War 2, but died out. A Russian delegation attended Dewsbury's 1973 English Championship win and suggested that exhibition games be held in Eastern Europe to gauge interest.

Rugby league returned in the late 1980s thanks largely to the efforts of Edgar Taturyan (there are different spellings of his name due to problems converting Cyrillic script to the Latin alphabet). Edgar Taturyan helped develop the new game with players from Moscow's rugby schools and supervised the game's expansion outside of the capital.

Early success for Russian rugby league came in the form of one of the Locomotive Rugby Football Club's junior team of 1987 which was sent to England to compete in a series of matches. Despite being expected to lose every game to their far more experienced opponents, the youngsters won all five of their matches. This proved that Russia could take to rugby league as well as any other country.

Taturyan's work allowed rugby league to become established; more importantly it was established before the onset of the chaos that accompanied the dissolution of the USSR, which would have made it nearly impossible to establish a new sport in Russia after 1991. Luckily by that time the Russian Rugby Football League (RRFL) had already been established.

Mr Maslov, at the time a member of the Russian Rugby Union (RRU), watched a game of rugby league on BBC TV and was instantly converted. With that, Maslov and his friend and President of the Russian Rugby Union, Edgar Taturyan, formed the RRFL.

Russian rugby football league

After the initial formation of the RRFL many of Maslov and Taturyan's RRU associates changed allegiances and joined the administration of Russia's new fledging sport. Prior to the commencement of the RRFLs inaugural rugby league championship in 1990, 3 teams, Moscow Magicians, Leningrad and Tiraspol were sent to England to learn the finer points of rugby league.

On the teams' return all three took part in the first RRFL championship, between the 3 teams which had toured England as well as those based in Kazan, Alma-Ata and Krasnoyarsk. Two of the 3 initial teams went on to play in the inaugural final, which was staged in Tiraspol, Moldova. The occasion attracted in excess of 5,000 spectators.

The next season saw a dramatic increase in the number of teams competing in rugby league with the national competition expanding to 7 teams from all over the country. The teams which competed in 1991 were Moscow Magicians, Tiraspol, Moscow Spartak, Red Arrows, Lions of St Petersburg, Kazan, Stars of Asia and Moscow Bears. It was Tiraspol's year as they beat the Magicians 26-16 in the final played in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.

Following Tiraspol's RRFL final win in 1991, the Moscow Magicians took a stranglehold on the domestic competition for the next 4 years winning as many titles. It was then the turn of Strela Locomotive for 2 years, followed by the Kazan Arrows who have become the most successful team in Russian history.

From the early formation of the league to 1993 the competition was going strong with junior participation on the rise and teams of Kazakhstan and Georgia trying to gain admittance to the league.

Recent history

Challenge Cup history

Kazan Arrows and Moscow Locomotive made history in December 2001 by becoming the first Russian teams to feature in the European Challenge Cup, one of the most prestigious international rugby league tournaments in the world. Since 2001 Russian clubs have travelled to England to take part in the tournament.

Moscow club Dinamo entered the cup in the 2nd round of the 2004 competition and became the first Russian team to achieve victory in any match of the challenge cup since the Russians' first appearance in 2001. The same year Locomotive joined Dinamo when entering the competition in the 3rd round.

Cross roads of 2005

One of the best years for the game in Russia had to be 2004, thanks mostly to Akhmet Kamaldinov, then president of the RRFL. Kamaldinov also took on role of financier to not just the federation, but the game of rugby league in Russia, providing money, referees’ kit and development work for the league and equipment for all of the RRFL clubs as well as funding and organising major international events such as the Victory Cup. The game in Russia which had achieved steady gains since his arrival with junior numbers up and the national league looking strong.

Only weeks after an internal row between the Dinamo and Locomotive clubs in Moscow led to the exit of national coach Bob Bailey, there now seemed to be pressure from Locomotive on Kamaldinov's presidency of the RRFL. Locomotive were of the opinion that they and not Kamaldinov should run the RRFL. The 29th of January 2005 was pencilled in as the day that would decide Kamaldinov's future with the RRFL. On word of the unrest in Russia, the RLEF representative flew out to the January 29th meeting in an effort to restore harmony in the RRFL.

The meeting ended badly and unfortunately led to Kamaldinov's and Vladmimir Dolgin's resignations from the RRFL as president and chairman respectively. Following Kamaldinov's departure it was feared he would leave rugby league altogether; in what could have been the crushing blow to the game in Russia, Kamaldinov withdrew all support for the game as financier to the federation, its clubs and even went as far as to move club Dinamo to a rugby union sevens league.

Despite all that happened early in the year, the RRFL went ahead with its annual championship, including the youth world cup, which was thought by many not to go ahead. The jury is still out as to whether or not rugby league in Russia can survive its latest crisis.

The national team

"Main Article:" Russia national rugby league team

The Russian Bears represent Russia in and other rugby league fixtures.


Compared to most other sports rugby league is a minority sport with most likely fewer than 5,000 registered players. The players lacked finesse during the early days due to a lack of expert coaching and development, which initially lead to a poor image for the rugby league. However, the game has grown steadily since its formation in the 1980s despite a chronic lack of funds that has hindered the game's expansion and development. It is also not clear how well rugby league is distinguished from rugby union in Russia, as there seems to be some confusion between the two codes.

The Russian Championship is one of the most well-attended domestic rugby league competitions in the northern hemisphere, with average crowds of approximately 2000 in recent years. [ [ World's Top 125 Football Leagues 2004 ] ]

The Russian Rugby League supports the game in Moscow, but in the provinces there is little money or infrastructure for the game: it relies on the enthusiasm of coaches and players alone. There is plenty of talent, and the players are keen to make both domestic and international tours, and also play overseas in order to raise their standards.

There is potential in Russian rugby league but whether the RRL will receive the much needed funding to realise that potential is another question. International competition is the most important aspect of Russian rugby league, as it is in many countries, as this is what will keep players and the public interested.

ee also

*Russia national rugby league team
* Sport in Russia


External links

* [ Russia]
* [ History of RL in Russia]
* [ RL info from Russia's Official English site]
* [ Russia's inclusion to the IRLF]

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