New Georgian Rugby Union President Elected Amid Clashes

On March 10, Georgia Rugby Union elected the only candidate Ioseb Tkemaladze as the new President amid violent confrontation that left several people injured. The clashes took place between the supporters of Tkemaladze and Irakli Abuseridze, former presidential hopeful, who boycotted the vote dubbing it “illegal,” claiming “political meddling” in the process.

Irakli Abuseridze, former ruling Georgian Dream MP, was earlier elected as the President of the union on December 30, 2020, but was refused an official registration by the National Agency of Public Registry (NAPR) due to violation of the Rugby Union charter.

The police interfered to deescalate the skirmish as the tensions went violent when all of the participating delegates (25 registered members with 42 ballot points out of the total 74) voted for Tkemaladze, admitting him as the new President after a series of postponed and repealed elections.

Irakli Abuseridze told the media after the election that the protest will continue, as a person “who took the post by violent means, cannot last long.” Abuseridze and his supporters will wait for the NAPR’s decision, while also planning to appeal to the court “for the justice.”

Ioseb Tkemaladze, in his turn, called on the opponents to “calm down and cooperate.” “Where there are lies and violence, I have a problem. Otherwise, my doors are open and anyone can communicate with me,” Tkemaladze said.

Crisis Background

The long-standing crisis began at least around planned in January 2020 elections, with then incumbent Gocha Svanidze, Irakli Abuseridze, and Bacho Khurtsidze being the candidates. The election was postponed to February 24, 2020, albeit could not be held because of the quorum absence.

In the meantime, President Gocha Svanidze filed a resignation in July 2020, allegedly owing to internal confrontations in the union and failure to resume the national competition halted after the coronavirus outbreak.

Irakli Abuseridze’s election on December 30 was appealed in the NAPR by his contender Bacho Khurtsidze. NAPR refused to register Abuseridze as the president, citing “procedural violations.”

Another election attempt took place on February 24, 2021, with Tkemaladze, reportedly a businessman and close associate to GD founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, being the only candidate. The election again could not be held due to the quorum absence.

Along with the existing confrontations in the Rugby Union, the divided sports organization suffers a serious financial crisis, with around GEL 6 million debt (USD 1.8 mln) and bankrupted Georgian rugby clubs, in need of urgent financial assistance.

Alleged Political Undercurrents

Irakli Abuseridze’s camp stressed the political meddling in the crisis, claiming that Tkemaladze was the ruling party’s “favored candidate.” Since the beginning of the election campaign, Abuseridze’s group said, he and his supporters were subject to “serious state pressure.”

According to them, President of the Rugby club “Armia,” Irakli Sultanishvili was forced to resign from his position, while being replaced by the person who supported Ioseb Tkemaladze in the vote.

Earlier in February Tbilisi-based TV Pirveli also reported on the political background of the Rugby Union dispute, stating that Abuseridze was lobbied by Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, while his former opponent in the December 30 election Bacho Khurtsidze was endorsed by Grigol Liluashvili, Head of the State Security Service.

One of the supporters of Irakli Abuseridze, a veteran Rugby player Irakli Machkhaneli, also alleged that Gia Kobakhidze (GD party Chairperson Irakli Kobakhidze’s father and a senior member of the Rugby Union board), GD MP Givi Chichinadze, and Minister of Education and Sport Mikheil Chkhenkeli personally interfered in the NAPR’s decision to reject the registration of Irakli Abuseridze as the new President.

The TV channel, critical to the Georgian Dream government, connected the confrontation in the Rugby Union to the internal strife among the ruling party leaders, saying that the Union crisis is just another indication of the “battle for interests” in the GD.

Tkemaladze, in his turn, also responded to the allegations about his “close ties” with ruling party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, stating that his relationship with Ivanishvili “is transparent.” “Mr. Ivanishvili had a connection with the Georgian Rugby before me and will have in future as well,” Tkemaladze noted.

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