Georgia’s midfielder Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (left) and Spain’s defender Pedro Antonio Porro Sauceda vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification football match in Tbilisi on Sunday. TOBIAS SCHWARZ/SUPPLIED/AFP

What hinders the development of sports in Georgia?

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The FINANCIAL — When asked what hinders the development of sports in Georgia, most of the respondents told The FINANCIAL that insufficient funding is a major obstacle for sports development. The main motivation to go abroad is not only the financial situation but also much better conditions for sports development and in general the fact that much higher level championships are held there, Georgian rugby player Ioane Lashagashvili said in an interview with The FINANCIAL.

The hopes and dreams of Georgian sports fans have been shattered by recent losses, and they openly speak out about football and rugby games played last November.

“It was an indescribable heartache for me especially when we lost at football to Macedonia. If we had won against Macedonia, we would have gone to the European Championship. Mine and many other fans’ dreams would then have come true. After the match with Macedonia, we lost the most important game against Armenia and everything just fell apart. As for rugby, the toughest games were with the best teams in the world and it was expected that we would lose them. The goal was not to defeat these teams, the goal was to increase and develop the quality of the game, and at least one “Lelo” would have been good. But we are participating in the championship where the best teams in the world play,” Vako Abesadze, one of the most ardent fans of these sports, said in an interview with The FINANCIAL.

“In the case of football, they had to win if you ask me. I am more of a football fan, have been since childhood, and it hurts that Georgians are fans of Brazil, France, England and other national teams because our football team has not been able to achieve minimal success for the last 30 years. Now we had such a moment for the first time to go to the European Championship, but for many reasons it failed and my lifelong dream shattered. Beside these failures I believe that in the future we will succeed. When there is potential, the main thing is diligence. There was also a rugby game with Ireland on 29 November where we scored a Try, we scored a “Lelo”, but we still lost,” said Vako.

Recent Georgian Olympic champions have been Lasha Talakhadze – wrestler; Manuchar Kvirkvelia – Greco-Roman wrestler; Lasha Shavdatuashvili – judoka; Irakli Tsirekidze – judoka; Vladimer Khinchegashvili – freestyle wrestler.

“When you are a person who wants to be hired by the NBA or play for a big team in Europe, you have to go and develop outside of Georgia. I had to do this myself because I knew there would be more competition and I would be able to devote more time to basketball,” said Sandro Mamukelashvili. According to him, the income of athletes in Georgia is not even enough to maintain a basic sports regime and nutrition.

Giorgi Javakhia is a twenty-four-year-old Georgian rugby player who plays for the French team Oryag. He has been playing rugby for ten years in total, but has been playing professionally for six years. He arrived in Lyon in 2015. “I was sixteen-seventeen years old, I was playing for the Kutaisi team Aia and my monthly salary was GEL 500 (USD 150.15), but more experienced and professional players’ salaries can be GEL 2,000 (USD 600.60), GEL 3,000 (USD 900.90), or GEL 2,500 GEL (USD 750.75). I was playing in Georgia for just six months before an agent contacted me and I signed a three-year contract. “I decided to go to France because here there are more opportunities to develop as much as possible, be a better player, and of course there is the financial factor.” There is a maximum salary of GEL 4,500 (USD 1,351.35) for rugby players in Georgia. That is the upper limit.

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Twenty-one-year-old Sandro Mamukelashvili is playing in New Jersey, in the USA. He came in the top five of the junior league and also won the Championship. Sandro has been playing basketball for twelve years. He went to Italy in 2014 and played there for two years where he started his official career. Now he is in the USA, he is not in the junior league anymore and has no income but does have funding. “The college league is one level down from the NBA. This school costs USD 62,000 a year, so there is no salary here, the college price is funded, also housing and food expenses are funded.” He trains from seven till eight o’clock, then he trains in the gym from eight till nine, then from two till five, and again from seven till eight in the evening.

“There is a very good league in Georgia, which is gaining more and more experience, bringing in very good players. It will be a very good league in a few years, but if you want to play for the NBA or in a big team in Europe, you have to go and develop yourself outside of Georgia. As a kid, I had a goal, either to go to the NBA or play in the Euro League, so I have to achieve this myself because there would be more competition and more time for basketball. At the age of twenty-twenty-one, to start playing professionally and playing for 10-15 years, loading the muscles as much as possible, everyday jogging, gym, balling, it all wears away at the muscles and you can receive a lot of trauma, which often happens to athletes. So, the income for athletes in Georgia is not even enough to provide an elementary sports regime and nutrition.”

Tsotne Machavariani is a twenty-three-year-old Georgian sportsman who has been a professional lead shooter for nine years. He won third place at the European Championships, third at the World Championships, won several Grammys in France, won first place at an international tournament in Germany, and participated in the Rio Olympics when he was eighteen. He was the youngest participant at the time and it was the first time in the history of the world that a mother and child, Tsotne and Nino Salukvadze, competed together at the Games – at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil.

“If you join the Georgian national team, you will have a minimum salary – GEL 300 (USD 90), then it will increase according to your achievements. The training conditions in Georgia could be better, of course, but in Greece, for example, there are much worse conditions for lead shooting training, although they have top-level athletes, so I think there is everything in Georgia to succeed if you really want to.” Tsotne’s income has not changed due to the pandemic’s conditions. Tsotne told The FINANCIAL that the average monthly income of a professional lead shooter in Georgia is GEL 1,000 (USD 300).

Tedo Abzhandadze, who has been playing rugby for twelve years, assessed the situation in the following way: “If we take the budget of just one of the French teams, it exceeds the budget of the entire Georgian Rugby Union.”

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Ioane Lashagashvili is a twenty-year old Georgian sportsman. He plays for the French team Bayonne. He has been engaged in sports for twelve years. He has been earning from rugby for four years now. Exercising about four – four and a half hours a day, in addition to physical activity, they discuss videoed games as well as theoretical materials, game tactics, and combinations. He has been playing in France for two years now. Ioane told The FINANCIAL that with 2 years of career experience in Georgia he can estimate that the monthly salary of rugby players is around GEL 1,000 (USD 300.30), although the income of athletes is always unique to the individual.

“I decided to go abroad not only to improve my financial situation and stability but also because there are much better conditions for sports development and in general much higher level championships are held. In France, rugby players earn at least EUR 2,500 (USD 2,956).” The Covid pandemic had a great impact on Ioane’s career. “The championship has been postponed. The previous season was cancelled. I was in Georgia for four months, there was no team training, I was only training individually, and due to the pandemic, the championship in France is about to be postponed again.”

The average salary in Georgia is GEL 1,150 (USD 347) while before the pandemic in the 1st quarter of 2020 it was GEL 1,200 (USD 362). The average salary is actually the arithmetic average of citizens’ salaries and it does not reflect the distribution of salaries. Today, 393,000 citizens, which is more than 10% of the population, have a salary of GEL 300 (USD 90) less (less than GEL 3,600 (USD 1086) per year) – according to information from The Statistics Office of Georgia.

The average nominal salary offered for vacancies in Georgia by the main companies is as follows: GEL 1,361 (USD 411) – for computer network and systems equipment; GEL 1,033 (USD 312) – Web Technicians; GEL 932 (USD 281) – Chefs; GEL 932 (USD 281) – Managers; GEL 872 (USD 263) – Travel Consultants and Clerks; GEL 808 (USD 244) – Advertising and Marketing Specialists; GEL 721 (USD 218) – Craftsmen and related workers; GEL 691 (USD 209) – Industrial machinery and machine operators and assemblers; GEL 667 (USD 201) – persons employed in the fields of services and sales; GEL 627 (USD 189) – Technicians and Assistant Specialists; GEL 570 (USD 172) – Office Support Staff; GEL 550 (USD 166) – Cooks; GEL 505 (USD 152) – Working at reception; GEL 490 (USD 148) – Bartenders; GEL 473 (USD 136) – Hotel reception operators; GEL 469 (USD 142) – Travel Guides; GEL 447 (USD 135) – Security Service staff; GEL 414 (USD 125) – Waiters; GEL 414 (USD 125) – Cleaners and helpers – all according to information from the Georgian Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development.

Therefore, the average income of Georgian athletes is equal to the average salary in Georgia.

171,696 athletes are registered in Georgia, out of which 39,305 are female athletes; 132,391 are men; 954 are para-athletes; 7,004 are coaches; and 2,739 are referees. Georgian athletes have won 3,203 gold, 2,458 silver, and 3,253 bronze medals, according to the current statistics of Georgian sports registration. The most popular sports in Georgia are rugby, football, basketball, wrestling, judo, and weightlifting.

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