Russians still don’t get it: their unsportsmanlike behaviour deserves punishment, not alibis

Russian sports minister Vitalyi Mutjko agrees Team Russia shouldn’t have left the ice after losing to Canada in last month’s world championship finals before O Canada was played. Still, he maintains, if the organizers didn’t open the gate, his country’s players would have never done that.

This seems to be a bit at odds with the latest news coming from Moscow: Russian hockey federation plans to punish a few people for the incident. General manager Andrei Safronov and head coach Oleg Znarok seem to be the targets. That, at least, is what Arkadi Rotenberg is saying. His word carries some weight: he sits on the board of the Russian hockey federation, and he also serves as Dinamo Moscow president.

“Yes, people will face consequences,” Rotenberg says, “and the general manager and head coach were right there to make sure our players stayed to hear Canada’s anthem.”

Of course, considering that International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President René Fasel is on the record as saying the Russian federation will face a punishment meted out by his organization, Rotenberg’s next words were not surprising: “It wasn’t planned for our players to insult Team Canada, and it wasn’t planned ahead, either.”

Nobody’s talking about planning. Everybody’s talking about lacking sportsmanship and behaviour worthy of a butcher’s dog, to use the local lingo in translation. Besides, Fasel stood there, in shock, watching Team Russia captain Ilya Kovalchuk order his teammates to leave as soon as they collected their medals and shook the Canadian players by the hand. Only very few Russian players, led by superstars Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, stayed, and Kovalchuk skated toward them and very forcefully insisted that they leave the ice before a live orchestra gathered to render the Canadian anthem.

There was no sign of either Safronov or Znarok, and it makes no difference, either: this was not Kovalchuk’s first international tournament, and he would be expected to know the rules.

Besides, ignorance is no excuse.

“Safronov and Znarok are aware of what they did wrong,” thus Rotenberg, “and I believe that this will never happen again.”

A nice change from sports minister Mytjko’s qualifier that, while wrong, Team Russia players were not to blame. If it weren’t for a gate opened by the organizers, they would have stayed. He simply echoed Russian hockey federation president Vladislav Tretiak’s assurances that it was the Czechs who were the guilty party. They could have kept his team on the ice if only they didn’t open the gate.

The only English-written newspaper published in Moscow, The Moscow Times, has come up with an interesting take. The paper described, tongue in cheek, what would happen if Canadian players left the ice before they heard Rossia Sviaschennaia Nasha Derzhava, formerly known as Soyuz Nerushimyi.

“The investigators find,” thus The Moscow Times spoof, “that Team Canada, by leaving the ice before hearing the Russian anthem, have committed a criminal act comparable to abuse of the national flag of Russia. If found guilty, they will have to install toilet seats in all of the KHL arenas all over Russia, as punishment.”

Fine and dandy as it goes.

But let’s cut to the chase: what punishment will Safronov and Znarok face? Any consequences for team captain Kovalchuk?

“First, we’ve got to see what the IIHF is going to do,” said Rotenberg. “We’ll make our decision based on that.”

In his land, they have an expression for this kind of behaviour. They call it alibism.

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