Soccer-Russia moves to outlaw business-backed foreign signings

MOSCOW, Nov 19 (Reuters) - High-profile foreign footballers could become even rarer in Russia after the country’s Sports Minister, Vitaly Mutko, said on Thursday that politicians were seeking to ban state monopolies from bankrolling such acquisitions.

“The Russian State Duma will introduce this draft law into professional sport to make sure that state monopolies do not spend their money on buying foreign players,” Mutko said during a meeting with Russia’s women’s football team.

“The priority should be farm clubs and youth clubs,” added Mutko, who is also president of the Russian Football Union (RFU), in an interview with the TASS news agency.

A number of Russian Premier League clubs live off the money given to them by state corporations: Lokomotiv Moscow are sponsored by Russian Railways, Zenit St Petersburg’s main backer is energy giant Gazprom, and Dynamo Moscow are supported by the state bank, VTB.

In September 2012 Zenit signed Axel Witsel from Benfica and Brazilian forward Hulk from fellow Portuguese club Porto for a combined fee of 100 million euros ($107.08 million).

A number of supporters were against the move, as they wanted the club to comprise mainly Russian players.

In July 2015, following a decree from the Sports Ministry, the RFU introduced tougher restrictions on foreign players appearing in Russian Premier League matches.

During the current season only six players without Russian passports are allowed on the pitch at any one time. Last season the limit was seven.

The restrictions on foreign players have been regarded as one of the reasons why Russian clubs have stopped spending vast sums on signings from overseas.

The current financial situation has also not helped, with the rouble losing half its value against major global currencies over the past year.

If the new legislation is passed, it could lead to even fewer foreign players moving to Russia. ($1 = 0.9339 euros) (Reporting By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy,; Editing by Neville Dalton)