Russian Rugby League Director Jon Christie recently appeared on the Chasing Kangaroos Podcast to discuss the national team and competitions past and where they are heading in the future.
In the early 2000’s Rugby League in Russia was certainly on the rise and was gaining popularity quickly to the point where it seemed the domestic competition would soon be on par with the likes of the NRL and Super League.
“We were on the map and it could’ve really taken off.” says Christie
League games were broadcast on television, with teams receiving significant financial backing which really boosted their mainstream appeal.
Teams from the Russian league would also compete in the Challenge Cup, the oldest knockout tournament in Rugby League history which is contested for by teams from the Super League, RFL, clubs from around Europe and now North America.
There are even reports that an International game held in Russia between the host nation and the United States in 2005 drew a crowd of over 30,000.
Former Australian Kangaroos head coach Tim Sheens would also join the Russian Rugby League as a consultant back in 2007.
Unfortunately, a “flare up” in a league match between Dinamo and Locomotiv around the same time would see games taken off of television and the Ruble crash in 2008 would see the domestic competition suffer severe economic troubles.
The biggest blow would come in 2009 as the Russian government would remove funding from Russian Rugby League and invest it in the country’s Rugby 7’s Olympics push.
This resulted in further economic issues for the league and players jumping ship to Rugby Union.
“…the Olympics are so important to Russia and it was another way to compete” stated Christie.
Fast forward to today and Jon Christie is looking to set Russian Rugby League in the way to gaining official government recognition and funding.
For this to happen Rugby League must be active in at least 42 of Russia’s 84 states.
Christie understands this can’t happen over night, however has a plan.
“The aim for the first year was to be around the Moscow region and then we’d expand into other regions and create a nationwide competition.”
A reinvented competition was set to start in March with six men teams and two women’s teams with games streaming live on Instagram.
Sadly due to the current global pandemic these plans have been put on hold and two men’s clubs have dropped out.
However a four team competition which would last a total of six weeks in Moscow has been planned with Christie awaiting the all clear to get the league started.
“It’s ready to go, so we’re waiting for the go ahead from the Government.”