Wrestling with football passion: Dagestan’s sporting salvation

Russia’s republic of Dagestan often makes headlines for violence. But there are other battles away from the front line that many hope the region will one day be remembered for.

­For centuries this area has been renowned for its strong and brave population. And for being the birthplace of many world champions in all types of wrestling,  

Now, as RT's Madina Kochenova reports,  the republic is bidding to host the 2018 Youth Olympics, as well hoping to play a part in football's World Cup when it comes to Russia that same year

Since the start of this year it has been home to one of the most ambitious and biggest-spending football clubs in the world.

Wrestling championships and football matches now unite all nationalities there. Locals say, when a boy is born into a family, the first thing to decide is which sport he will embrace.

Dagestani men are definitely “hands on” with their favorite sport. For centuries, just about every man there has taken to wrestling from childhood onwards. And, the region’s head youth coach says it is unlikely to be dealt a knockout blow.

“From the time we are born, Dagestani men are taught to fight. Boxing, judo…anything goes. We just love it. It is in our blood,” Anvar Magomedgadziyev told RT.

No surprise that Dagestan is the birthplace of world champions in all types of wrestling.

In the last 14 years, Dagestan’s fighters have always made the podiums in Russia’s amateur nationals.

All that while winning World, European and Olympic gold medals.

Thousands of Dagestani boys are keen that no one else should grapple them from top-flight international wrestling.

Nineteen-year-old Shamil Asmanov is one of them. He has already been wrestling for a decade, scooping several regional youth championships along the way.

“Since childhood I have dreamed of joining the national team,” he told RT.  “No matter how hard it sometimes is, I am ready to fight for this place.”

But there is another sport vying for Dagestani affections – football. Its profile has been raised since local billionaire Suleiman Kerimov bought the region's main club, FC Anzhi Makhachkala, and set about buying star players. International names like Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o and Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos.

“I see potential in this club, I want to grow together with this team,” proclaims Samuel Eto’o.

The potent effect of football is already seeping through – including a possible boost to Dagestan’s image at home and away.

The more the club spends on buying up big names, the more people talk about it. (http://rt.com/sport/anzhi-uk-2011-google-899/) It is also rumored that Anzhi wants to sign up the Dutch coach Guus Hiddink.

Not long ago, FC Anzhi Makhachkala was barely known outside this region. Now it makes regular headlines with its dabbles on the global transfer market. And when it comes and plays in the capital city Makhachkala, this day becomes a real holiday for the locals.

But the key goal for crowds in there is to host a World Cup game, when Russia gets to host the planet’s biggest sporting event in 2018.

"It will be a chance to show another side of Dagestan. People could come and see with their own eyes, “hope some of the fans.

For now, thousands of men and boys – and a few girls – watch the matches passionately, shouting slogans and waving flags and forgetting for a few hours of the often tough life that awaits them outside the stands.

This is one goal that certainly has been achieved.