Politicians ‘interfering’ in election of Russian football chief

A TOP Russian soccer official has accused the political establishment of interfering in forthcoming elections to replace the country’s long-serving football chief Vyacheslav Koloskov.

Alexander Tukmanov, executive director of the Russian Football Union (RFU), said Kremlin officials were putting pressure on RFU delegates to vote for his main rival, St Petersburg politician Vitaly Mutko.

"The pressure has been enormous and it's getting bigger every day," Tukmanov admitted yesterday in Switzerland, where the Russian national team is preparing for tomorrow's World Cup, Group Three qualifier away to Estonia.

The RFU general assembly votes for its next president on Saturday to replace Koloskov, who resigned in January after more than 25 years in the job, forced out by government officials unhappy at the way he was running Russia's most popular sport.

Four candidates are in the running for the country's top soccer job, but many observers think only two, Tukmanov and Mutko, have a realistic chance of being elected.

Tukmanov said, however, that government officials were pulling out all the stops to ensure victory for Mutko, a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I would even call it blackmail when a senior government official openly tells the delegates who to vote for," he said, referring to Boris Gryzlov, leader of the majority pro-Kremlin party.

Gryzlov and Russian Sports Minister Vyacheslav Fetisov held a joint news conference last week to express support for Mutko. Gryzlov said the government would give soccer wide-ranging financial backing if Mutko wins.

"I don't think it's right for government officials to get involved in the RFU elections," Tukmanov said. "This is not a political campaign. Football decisions should be made by football professionals, not politicians."

UEFA has been alarmed by what it describes as government interference in Russian football in recent months.

In November, its executive committee issued a strongly worded statement in support of Koloskov, expressing its "utter dismay" that pressure was being brought against him to quit. UEFA is sending an independent observer to monitor the RFU elections.

Tukmanov said senior government officials should help build the game from grass-roots level rather than take sides in political mud-slinging.

"The government must first create the necessary conditions for the game to grow in this country build modern stadiums, produce enough equipment and also pay coaches decent salaries," he said.

"But we have a former police chief who happened to hit a ball once or twice and now he is telling us how to run the game," he added, referring to Gryzlov.

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