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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Nudge Swayed RSU Vote

A last-minute Kremlin intervention into the domain of what is usually left up to sports folks not only changed the minds of many Russian soccer officials, but gave new meaning to the popular phrase "political soccer" in this country.

First, it was President Boris Yeltsin who a week ago blasted top Russian soccer officials for not doing a proper job at maintaining a high level in the country's most popular sport following the recent World Cup.

"Something has to be done about our soccer without a delay," a Kremlin statement quoted Yeltsin as saying last Tuesday. "In two years' time there will be the European Championship finals, and Russia must not suffer the bitterness of a sports failure."

Then the ball was passed on to Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuyev, who is in charge of sports, and just hours before the voting by the executive board of the Russian Soccer Union, or RSU, on its head coach, persuaded union executives to put their faith behind Anatoly Byshovets.

Such heavy pressure from high government officials swayed a very conservative body of RSU executives to unanimously vote for Byshovets after the other candidate, Mikhail Gershkovich, withdrew his name.

Byshovets, who by his own account even as late as Tuesday didn't plan to be in the running for the job, was persuaded to do so by Sysuyev and his close aides.

"[Thursday's] meeting with Deputy Prime Minister was the final straw that assured me that our national team would be given a priority status and that the government will turn its face toward our soccer," Byshovets said.

Soccer Union President Vyacheslav Koloskov, who only last week vowed not to back down to anybody, admitted a certain amount of pressure was put on board members from top government officials to sway the opinion.

"Not a hard pressure, where they would unequivocally tell us to vote for a particular candidate, but nevertheless we all felt it," he said after Thursday's vote.

But another high government official defended the Kremlin's involvement in the sport.

"Yes, we have a right to state our opinion on Russian soccer," Igor Shabdurasulov, deputy head of the presidential administration, said Thursday. "But I'm categorically opposed to looking at the situation in such a way. Today, we have the miners [strike], tomorrow we might have pension problems, then something else comes up. ... Then there is soccer. We shouldn't devote any less attention because it's all part of the national idea of self conscience."