Many people, including myself, think the standard of football displayed by the Russian national team and the Russian leagues is greatly improving. The rich oligarchs and development of skilled Russian players over recent years has seen the standard of the post-soviet Russian league rise to international contention, as displayed with the UEFA cup victories of both CSKA Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg. But has football really gripped the nation of Russia in the aftermath of the communist regime? A recent study by dedicated Russian website Championat.ru has discovered some alarming and slightly strange statistics.
In terms of international football, Russia have not been a major force since the days of the USSR and the managerial reign of the methodical Ukrainian Valeriy Lobanovskyi but the 2004 European Championships gave Russian football a lifeline. The stellar performances of messrs Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko allowed Russia to reinstate themselves as a serious footballing nation, however, the bittersweet elixir of reasonable success only enhance the problem.
The 2010 World Cup final was the worst cup final since the downfall of the Soviet Union. That, according to the Russian people anyway. Only 28 million people were persuaded to tune in to the world’s most prestigious football match. For a country with a population as staggeringly large as 139,390,205 that statistic really does speak volumes. It is easy to state that the fact that the viewing figures for the 2010 World Cup were remarkably low in Russia because the Russian’s themselves narrowly missed out on a World Cup place due to that 1-0 defeat to the Slovenians in Maribor. The fact is, however, that the Russian’s have not only been shunning football on the international stage, they have also been shunning football at national level.
The record low for number of viewers for a Russian Premier League match screened on national TV was broken this month. The fateful match between Lokomotiv Moscow and Alania attracted a measly audience of 1.5 million viewers, the lowest for fifty years. The decline cannot be explained in a mere blog post, it is more likely to warrant a 10,000 word university dissertation piece but it seems that the majority of Russian people are simply not interested in football. It is perhaps not surprising given that Russia is such a large country, boasting a total area of 17,098,242 square km, but the standard of football in Russia and the Russian Premier League is increasing in spite of the apparent lack of interest from the wider Russian community. This could explain the dearth in ethnic minorities in the Russian national team as the majority of players are of white European stock. People in the outer reaches of Vladivostock and Rubtsovsk may simply have much more vital and important things to worry about than the beautiful game.