Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Legal trouble at the Russian Football Union

The Europa League may be the Champions League's poor relation, but in Russia it can provoke some surprisingly strong emotions. Over the last month, the Russian Football Union (let's call it the FA for short) has fought tooth and nail to stop Russian Cup winners FC Rostov taking up their place in the Europa League. Why? No one seems to know.

It started on May 8, when Rostov beat FC Krasnodar on penalties to win the cup, their first ever major trophy, and to book a first European appearance since 2000. Three weeks later, a committee at the FA's House of Football HQ took that place away, claiming Rostov had breached financial fair play (FFP) rules over some long-ago-resolved unpaid wages and gave a Europa League place to Spartak Moscow. Rostov, understandly aggrieved, took the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won yesterday. They'll be in the Europa League next season; Spartak won't.

Since the FA doesn't seem to want to explain Rostov's exclusion and the court's full reasoning isn't out yet, here are a few unanswered questions:

- Why is the Russian FA trying to enforce European FFP rules on its own? Why not just let UEFA handle it?

- Why don't the FA's supposed experts understand how FFP works? It's designed to stop clubs making massive losses in pursuit of success, and the FA's scant justification doesn't explain why Rostov would fit the bill.

- The FA has had deep financial problems for years, so why (according to Rostov vice-president Alexander Shikunov) did it hire a team of "the best lawyers in Europe" to fight this case?

- Was any of the decision-making influenced by FA executive committee member Sergei Galitsky, who owns FC Krasnodar, a club that would have skipped Europa League qualifying rounds if Rostov were excluded? Was there pressure from Spartak, Russia's most-supported club and one of its richest?

At first glance, this is small beer. Only the Europa League, and all that. But it's a prime example of the sort of bureaucratic vendettas that ruin Russian football. Whether it's a pointless legal feud, financial problems or slap-on-the-wrist sanctions for clubs whose fans stage a riot, the House of Football is a pretty dysfunctional place.

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