Boriss Shipunov: “Waiting for the borders to open. In all ways”

President of the Baltic Futsal League Boriss Shipunov took part as a guest in the Balabol Podcast recently. We start to publish a series of the most interesting episodes from it. Let’s begin with the goals and perspectives of the Baltic Futsal League

Baltic Futsal League is an interesting project. I glanced on the first season of it, then, unfortunately, there was a pandemic. You’re very close to this project, I can say that you’re in charge of it. Tell me about it. What’s the purpose of it? Teams from Lithuania, Latvia, even from Russia. The main goal of all this?
The main point is to provide guidance in development to the players of the participating teams. You can play in the Estonian Championship for 15 years, you can popularize the futsal in Estonia, but it’s very difficult to do it for five years in a row… We’ve been in the championship finals for five years in a row. It’s very difficult to convince player over and over again that we need to develop. We need a three training sessions a week. Three is the minimum. Somebody from other countries could ask: «Do you have a championship in Estonia? How much do you train? 2-3 times a week?» Those who retired from playing have three training sessions a week just to keep themselves in shape. But we have just three sessions a week and games. The first season, the second one, the third one has passed but then they will say: we’ve played it for 15 times already. Is there anything else? We’ve been talking for years: guys, we need something else. I’ve met with the first president of the Football Union, and I talked about the idea that I was going to implement it, and I suggested to do it together.

So you wanted to make the Baltic Futsal League with the Football Union first? Am I correct?
Of course. I always have open cards, I don’t hide anything. I always tell: I’m going to do this, and you’re going to do this.

I can’t say I’m into it, so it’s hard to understand all the details. So the Baltic Futsal League is not connected to the Football Unions of the participating countries?
This is a commercial tournament. Commercial friendly tournament, I specifically stress this, and it was carefully checked by the lawyers. Moreover, the Law Bureau is a partner of FIFA and UEFA, World Cup and Euro were hold with their support, they provide assistance with transfers, etc. The federation gave up on me, they said that all this is nonsense, you’re a fraud, etc. So many people, so many opinions. I offered this for the first time, for the second time, but I was told to do it myself. Well, I decided to do it. I’ve launched it, and it turned out like I wasn’t cooperating with the Football Union. We wrote lots of letters and received nothing. Just no answer, that’s all. Speaking of the international level, I am in touch with various federations and their boards.

So the Baltic Futsal League is a commercial tournament formed by these clubs. Looks like Superleague in outdoor football.
That’s the right message from you. As soon as we started texting with clubs, I had meetings with a bunch of people, I’m not going to name them, but if anyone’s interested I can, but we will need a lot of episodes. It’s a long story, like a TV show. I met with the technical director of the UEFA, I presented him the project, it was fully agreed, we informed everybody, and his first reaction was like “I have to give it to the lawyers, see if you’re violating something”. I said “No, it’s an additional tournament, there are some key statements that laid within FIFA and UEFA regulations”. The same thing happened with outdoor football’s Superleague, some people just can’t hear each other. I’m not against it neither for it, but I understand what these “big bosses” meant. I’m not comparing the cases, I can see where we are right now. But we were immediately labeled in the UEFA correspondence as the “futsal superleague”. We were warned by the lawyers that they wouldn’t allow it, because it could set a precedent for those who are driving this idea in big football, although there are another amounts of money in there, and other stories. What I’m saying is: we’re not contending for some awards and titles, we’re just doing our job, we need to give gaming practice to the teams and players.

Why don’t you just organize some regular friendly matches? Why do you need a big league?
Friendly matches are not a competitive process in which players can develop systematically. We organize friendly games outside of the league’s schedule, we negotiate, like it was in 2018 when we needed a game practice before the Champions League. And it’s the point where league’s schedule comes into the forefront. Estonia starts the Champions League on the preliminary round, usually it’s the last week of August. All solid clubs and leagues starts their training sessions on the first week of August or the last week of July, but we should be in a competitive rhythm by that moment. It’s a specificity, and maybe it’s not so interesting for the audience. But the point is that they just started preparations, they had two or three weeks of physical exercises, they worked hard to get fit. They’re not even touched the ball, and we need a friendly. As in 2015 Augur was preparing for the Champions League, it was called the UEFA Cup then, and we were offered to play, we just entered the hall then. We played with them in summer, we were not good at all, we haven’t remembered how to play at all. Maybe we didn’t even know how to play. It’s bad when you don’t remember and you don’t know. We played a friendly match at the beginning of August with Augur to help them to prepare for the qualification of the Champions League. This is the usual practice.
Well, friendly games before the season are the one thing. And during the season, that’s an absolutely different.
During the season we say: “guys, what’s stopping us from playing futsal as long as the schedule allows?” Ok, the halls, but we can start in September and finish in May. “Yes, we can, but we won’t”. Why? “Because the lower leagues of big football will start playing in April”. Ok, let them play. “But the players have to play there”. Ok, let them go. Makes sense? “No, we’ll finish earlier”. Because of that, the schedule goes like this: it’s a gameday on weekends, and it’s a cup game in the middle of the week. Also two or three more rounds of the championship will be set within the week. Moreover, our schedule doesn’t have any international breaks and this is a violation of the UEFA rules by the way. This is our schedule. They sent it to us. And then as the season progresses, another letter arrives: you can reschedule your game, negotiate between yourselves and move it. Where will we move it? There are a lot of cup or league games in the middle of the week, but we’re starting to look. Then they tell us, let’s make a break before Christmas like it was this year. It happened because someone was afraid that they won’t be able to sit at the table with their families on Christmas. It’s a real story. We were closed until January. What’s the question? What kind of friendly games could be in situations like this? That is why we propose to harmonize this in some way, we take this work on our own, we agree on everything, and we stress for each federation that it’s a clubs decision to participate, clubs want to gain further momentum. The club says: we’re ready to go, we’ll find the time. Baltic Futsal League covers the clubs travel, lodging and meals on the day of the game, also we are responsible for the referees. We divided the process into two parts: if you want to play – then play, think about the training process, while the organization of it is completely on us.

As far as I understand the Estonian Football Union isn’t very helpful. What about the other federations?
It was interesting: Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus claimed they would participate, but you have bad background from Estonia, you have to negotiate with them. We have a local proverb: “If someone doesn’t want, then two others can do nothing”. This is the story we have with our favorite federation.
So what happens next with the Baltic Futsal League?
We’re waiting for the borders to open again. We’re waiting for the vaccination situation to be resolved so the borders can be crossed, we’re counting on that. If the borders will be opened now in May, we will negotiate with clubs about the Baltic Futsal Cup in late May – early June. It will be the connecting link between the seasons. And in the autumn we will launch the full-length season.
Are you just going to go on like this?
Yes, the process is ongoing. There is no point in checking every week when the borders are closed. I’m not talking about playing futsal in situation like this, sometimes it’s hard to go shopping.
Cosmos and Narva United represents Estonia in the Baltic Futsal League. Let’s get back to Viimsi Smsraha, why are they not participating? They are the flagship of the Estonian futsal.
Because it’s easier to make the first steps with like-minded people. We couldn’t reach some kind of mutual contact with the management of Viimsi. I’m a realist, and I’m not upset, nor happy about it. We’re ready for all the scenarios, but there has to be an impulse from the club that knows that they need it. If we had just three clubs, like in the big football’s Superleague at the moment, we would have to get on the phone and offer to play with us. The situation is different now: people who are interested in this are contacting us, our contacts are public, we all know each other. Lithuanian club showed some interest, we agreed on some details, give them a package of documents, it is sufficiently large, there is a clear understanding what we do, what they do, so everyone could realize that we participate in the same process.