There is an old saying “politics make strange bed fellows .” That ages old statement has proven to be absolutely true in international sports competition. Just ask Russian Olympic Committee Head, Leonid V.Tyagachyov .
Tyagachyov is the first official casualty in Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s political response to Russia’s poor showing in the 2010 Olympics.
He resigned his position as head of the Russian Olympics Committee.
Tyagachyov said he “was prepared to heed the call of conscience even though the Olympic Committee does not answer directly for athletic results.”
The call for resignations was spurred by Russias’ poor performance in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada where they brought home only three gold medals out of a total of 15 medals.
Medvedev denounced the state of Russian athletics and its overseers and openly urged them to have the courage to submit their resignations.
Vyacheslav Fetisov , a former Red Army Olympic team standout defenseman, and Detroit Red Wing player said in a statement ”We need to identify highly responsible and professional people who can answer for our sport.”
Fetisov, a Senator in Russia’s parliament, represents the perfect example of the metamorphosis in political climate in the former Soviet Union which has seen dilution in the Russian team’s Olympic dominance.
Fetisov played in one political climate and now makes policy in another.
Fetisov played for Russia when they were considered to be one of the top hockey teams in the world. In those days the team featured Russian heroes like Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov, and Vladislav Tretiak.
His teams played in the legendary Summit Series, the Canada Cup, and several World championships and as a result participated in several gold medal ceremonies.
In those days the Soviet Union dominated International competition and produced an almost synchronized product on the ice patiently waiting for teammates to skate to open ice for passes and goals.
Ironically, since the Soviet Union has been dismantled and replaced by a capitalist system things have changed dramatically in the Russian sports organizations.
During the Cold War it was very important for the Soviet Union to be represented by their athletes as an undeniable power on the world stage. Therefore, winning Gold Medals was of extreme importance and strongly emphasized within the entire Soviet Sports organizations.
Coaches, administrators, and players were all well aware of their responsibility to the Kremlin and Mother Russia and they knew their progress was being monitored.
Their responsibility was to find and nurture athletes who could properly represent the nation. Politics dictated that Russia had to perform well and the results were evident.
Today with a large number of Russian players freely travelling across continents to play hockey in the United States it is easy to see how motivations have changed. The same capitalism that has fueled an influx of Russians to North America has also taken away some of the discipline and even the fear of not producing the very best results at home.
The days of living in a small apartment and on modest per diems are gone with Communism and the Berlin Wall. Now like North Americans, many Russian hockey stars are millionaires and the fear of non performance has dissipated to a certain degree. Now not performing means doing suicides on the ice instead of fearing suicide duty in Siberia.
Fedorov, Kovalchuk, Ovechkin, Datsyuk, Malkin, and others take great pride in their homeland, but they have been exposed to the endorphins of promotion and individualism and cannot help but to feel some of the effects.
In the NHL and now the KHL players are compensated for their individual accomplishments not necessarily for their team’s overall performance. Possibly some of the legendary synchronization and teamwork may have transmogrified.
In this year’s Winter Olympics the Russian team did not display the synchronization or diligence that had been their trademark in previous Olympics.
The answer to Russia’s problem lies within the international performance of Canadian and US players.
Both countries have competed well with capitalist systems.
One of the reasons is the constant measurement and examination of hockey development and management in North America.
Some of the game’s brightest stars and hockey minds like Wayne Gretzky and Steve Yzerman have played integral parts in selecting who will be on the next “great Olympic team" as players and coaches.
Russia does have a few things to worry about.
In just four years they will host the next Winter Olympic Games. Its international sports training program has some catching up to do since it was left virtually unattended during the fall of the Soviet Union.
Medvedev also suggested that Russia’s athletic system was set up to favor Fat Cats who are in charge of the sports federations rather than the athletes.
Both coaches and athletes have openly complained about money being tied up in bureaucracy. Obviously this would not have happened during the Cold War.
After the Olympics, politicians seem to favor a sweeping overhaul of the country’s athletic bureaucracy.
Despite all the current problems it is a sure bet that he Russians will be prepared to host the Olympics four years from now and accumulate numerous gold medals.
The system will be repaired.
Politics dictate no less.