THE INTERVIEW BY: TRISTAN LAVALETTE

Lavalette: What is the history of cricket in Russia?

Chopra: First recorded cricket game in Russian Empire goes back as far as 1870′s. In 1875 there was a game between British expats living in St. Petersburg and Royal Yacht Osborne crew. Around 1880 there were some clubs in St. Petersburg, with some games frequently played between expats and visiting British. By 1895 there were four established cricket clubs in the capital.

Lavalette: Was cricket banned during communism?

Chopra: Yes. As a ‘bourgeois’ sport it was banned almost immediately after October Revolution in 1917. All cricket clubs were closed and the game was considered discreditable for the working class to play.

Lavalette: What is cricket’s perception in Russia these days?

Chopra: These days around 90% of Russian population don’t know the difference between cricket and croquet and often confuse the two sports.

Lavalette: How was cricket kick-started in recent years?

Chopra: In 1990s a group of students from the Sub-continent started to revive the game in Russia. In 2003 the Russian team toured Holland and played in their 1st overseas tour. In 2004 United Cricket league was established by myself and renamed Cricket Russia. In 2007 for the first time a team from Abroad (North Wales) visited Russia and played against the Russian National team (which was full of expats at that time).

Lavalette: How many teams and players play in Russia? How many locals play cricket?

Chopra: We have eight clubs in Moscow which play in an annual league and around 160 players out of which 30 are locals are part of these clubs. Apart from the Men’s team we have four boy’s teams and two women’s teams. All boys and girls are of Russian origin. There are many other clubs spread across the country.

Lavalette: Is cricket being introduced into the schools?

Chopra: We have plans to introduce the sport to all local schools. At present we have shortlisted 5 schools in Moscow and cricket has made a very slow start there but we do have a cricket academy for youngsters and seniors too where the art of playing the game is being taught.

Lavalette: Is there any mainstream cricket appeal? Is cricket in the media?

Chopra: Cricket is still a new sport in Russia – therefore mainstream public are only starting to learn the game. Cricket has some media attention, but more as a curiosity. Euro sport 2 has shown some T-20 matches but as that channel is not available to all Russians the impact is almost negligible.

Lavalette: How is the Russian national team performing? Which division is it currently and does it receive ICC funding?

Chopra: Russian national team has a lot of potential. Our team has participated only once with native players in the squad and finished sixth. When expats were representing team Russia we won 6 nations cup in Czech Republic, reached semi-finals and finals of euro t-20 in year 2009 and 2010 respectively. We are yet to play in any of the ICC operated tournaments but we believe that our current placement is in ICC division 3. We have not received any funding from ICC yet.

Lavalette: Is cricket recognized by the Russian government? Does it help fund cricket? Is it hard for cricket to achieve funding and sponsorship?

Chopra: We have already applied for the accreditation of cricket in Ministry of Sports. But it is officially recognized by multisport association Russia which operates according to the memorandum of understanding with ARISF. We have already formed Russian Cricket federation with 44 regional cricket bodies. It’s very difficult to get government support and funding for a non-Olympic sport. As for sponsorship, since cricket has very limited followers and low media coverage compared to most other team sports, it relies on enthusiasts for funding.

Lavalette: What are the future goals for cricket in Russia? Can it become a popular sport there?

Chopra: The future goals for cricket in Russia are to take part in the Olympics, if and when the cricket returns and to achieve ICC Associate Membership. It’s entirely up to ICC whether cricket becomes an Olympic sport or not. Realistically, it will be difficult for cricket to reach the popularity levels of Football, Ice Hockey or basketball in Russia, but these sports also started at some point from scratch here. But that was in a different era when society had less choices for leisure unlike today where cricket has to compete with rival sports. Besides cricket has to fight the lack of consciousness or Top of the Mind Awareness in Russian society to put it in marketing speak.

Lavalette: Does T20 cricket have a chance of becoming popular in Russia?

Chopra: Yes T20 cricket does have a very good chance of becoming a popular sport in Russia. But then Cricket Russia cannot make this happen on its own. ICC has a huge role to play if they are genuinely interested in bringing cricket to the fertile grounds of Eastern Europeans who have traditionally done well in all sport – especially in the Olympics.

Lavalette: Do you have some initiatives to promote cricket in Russia?

Chopra: We firmly believe that below mention points will act as a catalyst in the development of cricket here and in most of the countries in world.