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RUSSIAN SOCCER CHIEF FACES TOUGH RE-ELECTION BATTLE

The flamboyant Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who is already both the head of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) and president of Russia’s remote semi-autonomous ethnic republic of Kalmykia, announced his intention to stand on Wednesday.

Koloskov, who could yet have to fight off other candidates, has written off his challenger’s chances but is by no means guaranteed victory after one of the worst periods in the country’s soccer history.

Koloskov has been widely blamed for the poor state of Russian soccer, especially the dismal performance of the national team who have lost five straight matches in two months, including all three of their European championship qualifiers.

But Koloskov, who wants to secure his reign over Russian soccer for another five years, dismissed any rumours that he might step down voluntarily.

“We don’t have a crisis in Russian soccer,” he said at Thursday’s meeting of the RFU board, which voted to put off the elections for a month from the planned date of November 12.

“We have a crisis only in our national team, but that is because we simply don’t have enough quality players,” he said.

Koloskov said $2.2 million of the RFU’s total $5.5 million annual budget goes to the national side, but the players disappointed millions of fans with their poor play.

“The loss of all three of our Euro 2000 matches to Ukraine, France and Iceland made the rest of our qualifiers meaningless,” he said. “We will only lose money by playing them. No one is interested in the outcome any longer.”

Ilyumzhinov, 36, claims there is indeed a crisis and says he is the man to deal with it.

“I have decided to get seriously involved in the number one sport,” he said. “I have brought order into the world of chess, now I want to help Russian football.

“I’m simply ashamed of our football. How can you not find 11 good players in a country of 150 million people,” said Ilyumzhinov, who once tried to draft Diego Maradona to play for a local side in Kalmykia’s capital Elista.

But Koloskov said Ilyumzhinov’s threat was not serious.

“Right now we only have two candidates, me and Ilyumzhinov,” he said. “I rate our chances as 99 to 1 in my favour.”

When asked who would present a serious challenge to his reign, Koloskov named Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. He noted that in neighbouring Ukraine, Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko doubles as soccer boss.

But Koloskov might face another though opponent if Nikolai Tolstykh, influentual president of the Professional Football League (PFL), decides to make a bid for the RFU post.

Tolstykh, widely regarded as Koloskov’s chief rival, said he will make a decision whether to enter the race this week.

“We’ll have a (PFL) board meeting on Friday afternoon and after that I will decide,” said Tolstykh, who has also been rumoured to have forged an alliance with Ilyumzhinov.

“I can only say now that our soccer is in dire need of a change.”
Reuters