Vyacheslav Fetisov is a man with the burden of many types of positions, and he announced in public right before the beginning of a big hockey festival in Riga about his leaving two of these positions. This was done as a melodrama, complete with the tears flowing both on the screenandin the area, and people ooing and awing.
The tears came dripping down: Fetisov is leaving hockey! He didn’t come to terms with the system and cannot exist in an atmosphere where anything and everything is corrupt. He is challenging all the wheelers and dealers in sport. He has almost switched over to the opposition and is a ready-made candidate for filling the ranks, scary to say, of adversaries of the regime! The things that he said in Riga could make one come to the most radical conclusions.
But I am not going to head down that road, because a hero doesn’t give me any reasons for that. These days there are a lot of those brave and desperate glamorous, or at least not new to glamour, who have been able to get a feel for the latest Kremlin trend of taking a critical look at what surrounds you; this is now allowed. What’s more, if you are to go a step further and say that you don’t want to have anything to do with whatever is backward and getting in the way of moving forward, then you can become a hero, send a signal “upstairs”, and at the same time solve your own personal problems. Time and place are of critical importance, which is what Fetisov, no doubt, kept in mind, just as he must have foreseen the element of surprise that he had even on his colleague and former associate sitting next to him at the press-conference before the All Star Game, Continental Hockey League President and Gazprom Executive Aleksandr Medvedev.
No one intends to erase Vladislav Fetisov, an outstanding player and one of the best defensemen hockey has ever seen, from history, not to mention from the present either. Players rarely abandon hockey, as it’s called, “forever.” Fetisov isn’t counting on this. His surprising announcement was needed to make sure that the hard-hitting nature of the loss was clear: he will go on without hockey, but hockey without him is a whole different thing. He said pretty much the same thing after Rossport, which he headed for six years, was disbanded. Today’s cry of despair also is coming not from a great hockey player, but from a bureaucrat who has once again lost, or at least he believes that he lost, in a game of backdoor dealings. He is facing down the forces of darkness, and he, of course, personifies the forces of good.
We won’t get into Rossport, which really did do a lot of good (it had its fair share of shady dealings during its short existence as well). That’s already in the relatively distant past. Fetisov returned to hockey as one of the chief ideologues for founding the Kontinental Hockey League, and then some time later as the president of his hometown team CSKA while also being a senator from the Primorye Territory.
With CSKA, Fetisov needed to clean out the Augean Stables, as president of the fledgling KHL board of directors he needed to promote the new league, and as a senator from the Primorye Territory he has enough problems to deal with as it is. On top of that, he is head of the Federation Council’s Commission for the Development of Physical Education and Sport. All these posts demanded that he immerse himself in each and everyone completely, and at the same time conflicted with each other; however, Vyacheslav Fetisov for the time being didn’t see anything wrong with this (having already managed now to accuse his colleague Aleksandr Medvedev that he wasn’t giving enough attention to the KHL because of his job as the head of Gazpromexport).
My thoughts are that from the very beginning it was hard for Fetisov, with his standards and ambitions, to take on CSKA and untangle the Gordian knot of problems it had, including with its finances, personnel and players. The thing is, if he wasn’t able to turn the club around on the fly and the influence of his name, then he would have had to dedicate himself 24 hours a day to all of the clubs operations. But Fetisov didn’t exactly jump at the initiative to take the team by the horns and turn it around (which he himself admitted to long before things turned nasty). And if he didn’t want his only contribution to KHL be his name and acting as its representative, he should have worked hard, or at least determined what his powers would be from the very beginning. No one except for those in the hockey community seemed to be bugged by the fact that two hockey posts in direct subordination to each other were combined into one in egregiously ridiculous fashion (the same thing was done with Aleksandr Medvedev). Virtually nothing was known either about the obvious conflicting issues between the two leaders until the last moment when we found out that Fetisov was not happy with being the nominal head.
The story with CSKA, nonetheless, is the chief reason for the insult. No matter what Fetisov did as president, it turned against him. The change in ownership two years ago didn’t bring in new money to the club, and hiring Fetisov’s choice, Sergei Nechinov, as coach only exacerbated the unenviable situation with the game and win-loss record. The team’s president had Nemchinov’s back to the very end, now having called his colleague and team general manager a worthless coach and person.
Preceding this was a joint letter from CSKA management and former players to the prime minister, pleading to him to save the club from falling to pieces. Their pleas were heard, and CSKA’s desire to be taken under the wing of a large company was fulfilled. Novaya Gazeta wrote about the dubious nature of services like this, despite Rosneft (being forced against its will) promising the team piles of money, completely new infrastructure and unthinkable material wealth. Now, Fetisov claims, it turns out that in all actuality everything is “One big farce,” and “A mockery of a great team,” that “Those who ran the club all the time as their little toy dream of returning the glory days for themselves,” and that “Even little kids have come on in to control the club, all these relatives of high-ranking executives.”
I wonder whom Fetisov was expecting: super honest professionals who don’t even know what stealing is, experienced and knowledgeable administrators or just people who would come and say, “Take our money and do what you want.” Fetisov knows his way around government and political affairs. Does he not realise who has cushy jobs and how these “kids” know how to so adroitly handle the taxpayers’ money? I would like to share Fetisov’s sincere anger about how the team’s new investors are intending to run it, if it weren’t for just one “but”: there’s no way I’ll believe that Rosneft’s behaviour was a surprise for Fetisov.
Fetisov claims that he was offered 30% of the budget in exchange for leaving his post, but he didn’t want to get involved in such dirty games. In other words, he didn’t sell out, as opposed to his other CSKA colleagues, including Viktor Tikhonov, the legendary coach and patriarch. Another opinion has it that Fetisov was cut off from managing the team and its finances due to the less than admirable results of his three seasons as the team’s president.
I assume that they are all good, and that this story will in no way depict Fetisov as the noble hero, despite several of his conclusions doubtlessly being right. He was circumvented, and possibly unfairly so. His feelings were hurt and he decided that it was time to slam the door as loudly as possible. Fetisov didn’t wish to admit to even one of his mistakes, even the most obvious one regarding the very same Sergei Nemchinov. On the other hand, he still has a lot more to tell, including about “How the KHL really was built.”
We know already how it was built – primitively, copying the unbeatable NHL, to compete with the Hockey Federation, complete with mischief and excitement at how Aleksandr Medvedev, a big fan of the country’s national pastime, opened up Gazprom’s big wallet, covering up everyone’s eyes from what was going on.
In a way, CSKA and Rosneft together have the same thing working for them. Whoever holds the money holds the… Well, you know the rest.
As it turns out, Fetisov didn’t know. Incidentally, Medvedev’s league, which is losing its number 2 guy (and in a professional hockey sense undoubtedly its number 1 guy) may be crooked, but it isn’t the worst project in the history of Russian sport, which in a sense is thanks to Fetisov. It’s hard to say what is going to happen with CSKA, since Rosneft unlikely has its own “Medvedev” in its ranks.