Football: Abramovich winds down Russian development fund

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has decided to wind down his Russian football development programme that saw the Chelsea owner plough tens of millions of dollars into the sport in Russia in recent years, his representative said Wednesday.

The decision was taken as Abramovich's National Football Academy (NAF) foundation had achieved all of its aims in the development of Russian football, Abramovich's representative John Mann told AFP.

"The foundation is winding down its activities," he said.

"The foundation has achieved the main aims for which it was created -- which is setting up a broad grass-roots system for Russian football," he added.

Mann added that the foundation created around 140 new football pitches across the country and completely renovated the youth Football Academy, which is currently working under control of Samara region authorities in the city of Tolyatti.

The foundation has also been involved with the training of coaches and referees as well as sponsoring youth teams across the country, he added.

It also paid the Russian national squad coaching staff's fees.

The representative emphasised that the foundation's activities were being wound down, not completely halted.

Abramovich started to assist Russian football soon after he purchased English Premiership side Chelsea in 2004.

The Sibneft oil company, then under Abramovich's control, signed a three-year sponsorship deal with CSKA worth $54 million.

Abramovich's majority stake in Sibneft was subsequently bought out by state gas giant Gazprom in 2005 and the company was renamed Gazprom Neft.

The billionaire established the foundation with a one-billion rouble ($30 million) annual budget but the overall foundation expenses then reportedly grew to $200 million.

According to the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, the foundation paid around $7 million a year to the Dutch manager Guus Hiddink, who led the Russian squad to bronze medals in the 2008 European championship.

After the national side failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals, Gazprom became the main financing source for the Russian Football Union.

Since that time, the organisations run by Abramovich have gradually decreased their share in Russian football support.

According to Forbes magazine's annual rating, Abramovich is Russia's 13th richest man with an estimated fortune of $10.2 billion.

Russia's national football team is now managed by highly-regarded Italian Fabio Capello, who Russian football officials want to hold on to up to the 2018 World Cup hosted by Russia.