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How Georgian Football Development Fund spends taxpayers’ money

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Wednesday, November 18
Georgian National Football team had a chance to enter the European Championship on November 12 at a home match with Northern Macedonia. Our team lost in the play-off of the European Championship qualifiers, missing the only chance to take part. Three days later the team broke the hearts of hundreds of fans when it lost in the 5th round of the UEFA League of Nations Division C, against the Armenian team.

The given defeats sparked a debate among supporters and society, in general. People started asking about funds, posing the question of the overall necessity of this sport in Georgia. The concern is legitimate, since Georgian football is receiving taxpayers’ money and is completely dependent on the government, so we suggest to take a look.

Last year, Georgian Football Development Fund (GFDF) published a report on the financing of clubs in 2019, according to which, the fund financed 78 football clubs in Georgia with a total of GEL33,969,200. For example, 10 clubs of the National League received GEL19 128 525, whilst the 38th club of the regional league got GEL1 860 992.

Since independence, the club football in Georgia existed via a mixed model - there were private clubs with private owners, as well as public ones, funded by local governments. This model was modified 4 years ago - Tbilisi mayor and ex-football player Kakha Kaladze, Minister of Sport Tariel Khechikashvili, President of Georgian Football Federation (GFF) and future Georgian Dream MP Levan Kobiashvili and Mikheil Yavelashvili lobbied the 5-year program of development of football in Georgia, which was soon approved by then PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili. GEL211 million was issued for sponsoring club football and the money was transferred from budget to clubs via GFF and GFDF - Non-entrepreneurial legal entity, instead of city halls and municipalities.

This project has resulted in creating many small clubs without infrastructure, fanbase, or finances on lower leagues that get basic funding of GEL50 000 in the regional league, League 3 - GEL250 000, and so on.

A journalistic investigation by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty finds that in 2016-2019 Georgia has spent GEL132 million on around 70 teams from 5 leagues. The main expenses were salaries, bonuses, gas, gatherings, business trips, equipment, food, office furniture, communal fees, and even the service of banking percentage.

According to the investigation, 93% of the GEL211 million go to professional football clubs, of which 50% is spent on salaries and bonuses. Based on the development of football - only 7% is spent on children's football and mass football. The level of football in Georgia at the national and club level is worse than it was before the creation of the fund. The UEFA and FIFA ratings confirm this regression.

The program ends in 2021 and it is yet unknown whether it will be reconsidered or prolonged. Given the close connection of politics and footballers in Georgia, it is interesting what the future will look like for this sport and how long the large funding which hasn’t yet shown any desired results will continue.