The Georgian Identity Explained through the Fight for the GFF Presidency

The two-month process that almost reached the point of life-and-death has come to an end with the election by the Georgian Football Federation of a new president. For the next four years the country’s number one sport will be led by the former captain of the national team and former half-defence of German ‘Schalke 04,’ Levan Kobiashvili. He beat the acting vice-president Rezo Arveladze by two votes to become the fifth president of the Federation. The main intrigue of the election was this minimal difference, which, as the battles at the Hotel Holiday Inn showed, was connected more to politics than sports.

After the already former president of the Georgian Football Federation, Zviad Sichinava, stated following the UEFA Super Cup finals that he was resigning, it became topical who would take his position. Names of candidates were soon revealed. The Energy Minister Kakhi Kaladze gave a certain presentation of the governmental candidate when he stated that the Georgian football was in mud and Levan Kobiashvili would drag the country out of it with the help of the state. After these words, no one had any doubts that Georgian Dream would try to conquer the last bastion of the previous government. Until now, the Football Federation was staffed with people from the United National Movement. Period. The Georgian Dream could do nothing about this until now. Upon coming to power, the Georgian Dream called for Zviad Sichinava to resign. They even involved the prosecutor in this issue. However, after receiving the yellow card from the UEFA president Michel Platini, Sichinava waited for the expiration of his term. This day came on August 9, the day before the Super Cup finals. Battles took place on and off the field as the government started fighting for the vacancy of the Foodball Federation’s president. During those days, newspaper Kronika + wrote that Prime Minister Garibashvili had assigned this mission to the Ministry of Security and the ministry had further delegated the task to its subordinate structure – counter intelligence. The assignment was intensified by the fact that the governmental candidate is a distant relative of the former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, which truly doubled the assignment of the security services. Levan Kobiashvili and the billionnaire’s sister’s children had the same last name, therefore, were related.

The government’s interest in football is nothing new if we ignore the election of the first president of the Football Federation when the Georgian Football Federation was still part of the Soviet Football Federations and the name of the new federation head was decided at the Chess Palace instead of in the cabinet of the Central Committee Secretary. In 1989, when Tbilisi’s Dinamo and Kutaisi’s Torpedo left the football championship of the Soviet Union, and it became necessary to elect the first, truly independent leader, there was a similar confrontation between the legendary coach of Dinamo, Nodar Akhalkatsi and the legendary footballer of Dinamo, Kakhi Asatiani. The opinions of supporters was also divided. “Ordinary people” supported Akhalkatsi more. “The Elite” was in favor of Kakhi Asatiani. People gathered at the Chess Palace and the delegates elected Nodar Akhalkatsi to be the president of the federation. Confrontations also took place several times during the epoch of President Shevardnadze while the federation was electing Merab Zhordania. It reached boiling point when FIFA threatened to oust Georgia. This organization does not stand by when a state interferes in the affairs of football. Events followed almost the same scenario during the governance of Mikheil Saakashvili and now, during the rule of billionaire Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream. It should be said that the security services managed to complete its mission. At the last moment, the opponent of the governmental candidate was detained for drug abuse charges and two more candidates were removed. Thus, Kobiashvili won. Against such a background, a question arises: What do all the authorities want with the presidency of the Football Federation?

Why do they shed tears of joy after victory or become so angry they are unable to hide it? It is hard to say. Seven million Laris, control over that which is in the power of the federation president, is not an amount truly worth so much effort. Seven million is the amount given by the state budget to football. Then what causes the government’s passion for football? The only correct answer can be that football is the sport of the masses and beloved of people, the voters. Leaving football-loving voters and the authority over that beloved sport to opponents is equal to losing in the bigger elections, i.e. the bigger political picture, which means control over a 10 billion Lari budget. This is why they are fighting and “eating each other.” If not, how can they help Georgian football? What can become of Georgian football before the election of the Football Federation’s president leaves the impression that it is a football superpower country. This constant, obviously pathological confrontation that has been repeating for years, from session to session, in fact hinders the development of Georgian football much more than lack of money or stadiums and playgrounds. What should we do? Nothing. Drink cold bear, enjoy the premier league and primer division or good appearances of small Switzerland or Slovenia at world championships. No one will restore the Soviet Union with the resources of totalitarian mobilization characteristic to it, and it takes historical evolution to collect the necessary skills of a collective effort. Thus, not years but decades or even more are needed and new generations with a totally different and updated national mentality, i.e. a new identity.

Zaza Jgharkava

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