MOSCOW DAYS: Greedy criminals muscle in on lucrative world of sport

Russia's Interior Minister, Anatoly Kulikov, is not an especially endearing character. His penchant for uniforms, his love of decorating his squat frame with medals, and his belligerent approach to the Chechen war smack of reactionary Soviet politics. In the cliched language of Kremlin reporting, his name is often coupled with the "H" word: "hardliner".

But he is right about one thing. A few days ago, he warned that crooks from Mafia-style groups have not only infiltrated the machinery of state, from the judiciary to the police, but also Russia's most lucrative industries, such as gold, diamonds, alcohol, tobacco. Now, alas, another category must be added to that list: sport.

Murders by bomb and bullet have become too frequent to merit much space in the media, but the killing of Larisa Nechayeva is an exception. Even by the standards of this crime-worn society, her death is shocking. Yesterday NTV, the best television news service, placed it at the top of their bulletins.

Ms Nechayeva was the number two at Spartak Moscow, Russia's leading football club. That fact alone made her highly unusual as businesses rarely employ women in senior positions. Among her duties was that of running the club's finances and recruiting sponsors. A youthful-looking blonde, she attracted the attention of Spartak, whose crowd numbers have fallen off sharply since Soviet times, by promising to turn it into a "super-club" supported by wealthy sponsors.

Last Sunday - if initial reports are accurate - Ms Nechayeva was driving through Taratovo, a village about 75 miles east of Moscow, where Spartak owns some villas. At around noon, someone opened up on her car, shooting her in the head. She was killed, along with another woman. The evidence points to a contract assassination, a Mafia-style hit.

The interest in Ms Nechayeva's death would certainly have been less, were it not for another assassination earlier this year which made it obvious that the talons of organised crime are now wrapped around Russian sport. The days when sport was a symbol of Soviet success, pursued for love of the motherland, are clearly gone.

In April, Valentin Sych died in a hail of automatic rifle bullets, fired into his car by a gunman in a passing vehicle. As head of the Russian Hockey Federation, he was a nationally known figure. Shortly before he died, Mr Sych, 60, gave an interview to Reuters news agency in which he complained about the growing role of crime in sport and warned that players and officials were coming under increasing pressure from greedy mobsters.

The criminal world's move to muscle in on Russian sport owes much to the simple fact that this is where the money is. In the last few years, top teams have been taking a leaf out of the West's book by introducing sponsorship and trading stars; Russian hockey teams have been raking in huge sums from their counterparts in the United States' National Hockey League for the rights to top Russian players. When Mr Sych was killed, rumours circulated that he was not an innocent party, having had access to some of this booty which he refused to share with his killers.

Such claims easily take root here, not least because ice hockey has a murky reputation. But the problem has deeper roots which run into the Kremlin itself. In the chaos that followed the end of the Soviet Union, the Russian government lacked the money to carry on supporting sport from the budget. The Yeltsin administration decided that one way funds could be generated was by granting certain sporting organisations the right to import alcohol and cigarettes free of tax. The result was not only massive, uncontrolled, profits; it also ensured that sport was quickly criminalised. The ice hockey federation is rumoured to have made an annual $13m (pounds 8.1m) on booze alone.

The practice has since been curtailed, but the biggest player of all was the National Sports Foundation, which provided bundles of cash for the President's re-election campaign.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

PHP Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: PHP Develope...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star