They do not see any dependence on Russian money in Latvian football, they are more concerned about the indirect effect of sanctions
https://www.lsm.lv/raksts/zinas/zinu-an ... i.a448500/
In recent years, the Highest Football League has become the most high-quality team sports championship in Latvia, and this is mainly due to the influx of foreign investors. It is often said that Russian money has "flowed into Latvian football", which, due to the sanctions introduced against Russia, would threaten clubs with a severe free fall under the current conditions. Latvian Radio found out that russian-related money in domestic football is indeed there, but not in such a large amount that it supports the whole system.
After the invasion of Ukraine, economic sanctions imposed against Russia are echoing in various industries around the world. Russian teams and clubs are mostly disqualified in international sports tournaments, oligarch Roman Abramovich cannot sell his English football club "Chelsea", a last game was also played by the Riga "Dinamo" hockey team, which was an unmistakable tool of Russian "soft power".
10 teams are again participating in the Latvian Highest League this season, which is a big number for the local league. Each team has its own goals – RFS, "Riga", "Valmiera" and "Liepāja" look at the Champions Cup with wary eyes, but other clubs have more modest ambitions. However, they also hope to recoup the investment, if not through the generous bonuses of being awarded the European Cups, then at least through successful actions in the market for young footballers.
Arkady Birjuk, a football journalist for the media sportacentrs.com, does not yet see a direct impact of the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia on Latvian football. According to Birjuk, there was much more Russian money in Latvian football several years ago.
"In 2014, 2015 and 2017, there was a lot more Russian money," Biryuk said. "Now, even in general, when you look at the geography, there are almost no Russian players [in the premier league club applications]. If there is, it's just the young people."
Birjuks also agrees with his colleague Edmunds Novickis – in his opinion, the stories about Russian money in Latvian football are exaggerated, and falling into a financial pit does not threaten two clubs that have Russian investors.
"The slogan that there is a lot of Russian money in Latvia [in football] is exaggerated," Novickis stressed. "Yes, "Riga" and "Auda" are the two teams where there are Russian investors. If we look at whether they [club investors] are going to stop doing business now, then I think they have pockets deep enough in that case as well."
However, caution in the hallways of the football farm is palpable.
The President of the Latvian Football Federation (LFF), Vadims Lyashenko, and the General Secretary of the LFF, Arturs Gaidels, in a conversation with Latvian Radio, revealed that before the 2022 season, potential participants of the Virsliga had to provide financial guarantees that they would be able to finish the season, as well as prove the origin of the money.
"We know everyone because we had interviews with the new team owners before the season started. The whole picture is on paper," explained LFF president Lyashenko.
For his part, Gaidel admitted that he personally does not know the owners of the clubs, but they are known to him.
"If we are talking about Russian investors, then there were questions for two clubs - "Riga" and "Auda". We checked all licensing documentation. We found that the funding needed to go through the licensing process did not contain Russian money in those contracts. We don't have any risks right now."
Kekava-based "Auda" is one of the three newcomers of the Super League season – the club has a rich sporting history from the 70s, and former football team captain Kaspars Gorkšs has grown up in its ranks. The team has been led by his father Juris Gorkšs for several decades.
"For us, the situation is very good and stable. Sponsorship agreements were concluded, which were presented to the Latvian Football Federation," juris Gorkšs said. "These are companies that are in Latvia. If anyone feels that we have money coming from Russia, we don't have money coming from Russia. It's local [money]. I can't comment on what's in everyone's stomach or what's in every firm."
To play in the top league, clubs need a large amount of money, at least 200 thousand euros
, and the support of the municipality or local sponsors is often not enough.
In the off-season, "Auda" announced the inclusion of Russian investor Andrei Vilenkin. Latvijas Radio found out that he owns a business in Russia that manufactures, imports and sells various accessories and tools for the garden – flowerpots, snow shovels and axes. Latvian Radio has no reports that he or his companies are subject to sanctions.
With the arrival of the Super League, the main team of the club is waiting for structural changes. Russian investor Andrei Vilenkin has joined the Green-Blacks, the club's day-to-day work will be headed by the new general director Fransis Justin Zodeugan, while the duties of the CEO will be performed by Juris Gorkšs. — FK AUDA (@fkauda) January 31, 2022
After attracting an investor, "Audas" ambitions have grown – from a worthy performance in the season to a fight for a place in the top five of the leading teams.
"Riga" FC will also fight for the top place – the second team whose funding sources the federation had questions about. In addition, both teams – "Auda" and "Riga" FC – have been united by a close bond for the past few years. Recent three-time champions "Riga" hire players and share a coaching resource.
"Riga" FC is undoubtedly the richest club in the top league. Its budget is informally estimated at four to seven million euros. The owner of the club is the Russian billionaire Sergey Lomakin, who has been on the list of undesirable persons for Latvia for two years. In Latvia and Russia, the network of low-cost goods stores "Fix Price", partially owned by him, operates. It can be found in the list of supporters of the football club, and the logo of the chain of stores adorns the curbs of the field at the Kaisermeža Stadium.
"Our budget converges, like others, from many supporters. There was a full-fledged licensing process in which we also had to present our financial sources. No questions have arisen there, everything is in order," Krišs Upenieks, a representative of "Riga" FC, explained after carefully coordinating the answer with the club's management. "There have been no signals that we will be affected by these sanctions. We feel stable."
The business media "Forbes" reports that Lomakin's wealth is about $ 3.1 billion. The low-cost commodity business has helped him develop the capital of the Russian state-owned bank VTB. On the fourth day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, "Fix Price" announced that it terminated the cooperation agreement with the subsidiary of the sanctioned VTB bank "VTB Capital". Perhaps fearing that the chain of stores and other related investments, including the football club, could be subject to sanctions.
If "Audai" and "Riga" FC have a direct connection with Russian investors and, as a result, the financial flow could be more unpredictable, then other Latvian teams can feel the impact of war and sanctions during the season.
The current Latvian champion RFS gets the lion's share of the season's budget from the construction company LNK. RFS general manager, former leader of the national team, Māris Verpakovskis, is concerned that part of the funding for the team could be frozen due to difficulties in the construction industry.
"I can't say we're not affected. It is clear that the main sponsor of our team is "LNK Group", one of the main business directions of which is construction," Verpakovskis said. "The construction business is also affected at the moment, as the materials mostly come from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. At the moment, [footballers'] transfer money and UEFA payments will be kept in the previous amounts. There are concerns about LNK [money]. That portion of the budget could go down or freeze for a while."
The founder and head of the football school "Metta" Ģirts Mihelsons, whose team plays in the top league, but does not fight for the first four, is also of concern. He made no secret of the fact that, in particular, the not-so-rich clubs may have to decide this season whether to eliminate children's training groups, or the top of the pyramid – the Super League team.
"At the moment, some clubs are already facing sanctions because they have offered players a 50% reduction in their salary. It's going to be tough for the country, it's going to be hard for the club as well. We're part of the community," Mitchellson said. "The price hikes are so drastic that we won't be able to pay the coaches of the [youth system] anymore. Children's and youth sport will be an exclusive affair. Predicting if we're safe... There's a chain there that doesn't seem like much. We're currently wondering if we'll be able to go somewhere at all. The cost of buses for children's and youth tournaments has risen by 40%."
Latvian Radio contacted eight of the ten representatives of the top league teams, expressing the hope that such a number of participants would also reach the finish line of the championship. The confidence in their ability to do so, though, was only for the favorite teams.
The weak link in the chain may turn out to be the "Daugavpils" team, which has a long-standing conflict with the city leadership. For this season, the city council did not grant the club a cent, but permission to play in the city's only standard-compliant stadium, the "Builder" team received only shortly before the start of the new season and for the time being only in the first match.
The budget of "Daugavpils" is based on the disbursement of the legionnaires' fund from the Latvian Football Federation – this money is received by the teams that use the least foreign players. The team is also hoping to make money by selling football players. Nauris Mackevičs, a representative of the unit, revealed that foreign investors are interested in the team of Latvia's second largest city, but it disappears when they see the outdated stadium.
"We haven't gotten to a very specific conversation because almost always the conversations end when we're told to show off our infrastructure," Mackiewicz said. "The investor is ashamed to take his partners to the stadium "Celtnieks" or to any other stadium in Daugavpils. As long as there is no coherent infrastructure in Daugavpils, there will never be normal investors here. I'm not talking about some kind of sweepstake money, they don't care."
It must be concluded that the russia-related money in Latvian football is, but not as much as one might think.
The teams "Riga" and "Auda" have investors from Russia, but the money is not formally of Russian origin. However, this does not guarantee that the assets of these rich will not be frozen in any subsequent round of sanctions, which in turn will mean financial difficulties for these entities. A similar thing has happened at the moment with the former owner of the famous English club "Chelsea" Roman Abramovich, who has both an Israeli and Portuguese passport in his pocket.