Alexander Ovechkin scored the 76th NHL goal in a game against Calgary. With this fascinating act, he settled Jaromír Jágr’s shooting account, rose to third place in the historical table and at the same time became the best European shooter in the overseas competition. Unfortunately, instead of admiring the unique sporting art, the world values Ovechkin’s zigzagging art in the face of media questions about the Russian war campaign.
The war in Ukraine started two weeks ago. It erupted when Alexander Ovechkin overcame the goals on shot. However, as Vladimir Putin waited before the Beijing Olympics with his aggression against China, he ignored Ovechkin’s famous moments. The unique ability to put the puck in the net is thus obscured by events on the other side of the world. And also the behavior of Ovechkin.
Although Captain Washington said he was against the war, he repeated the phrase that Putin was still his president now, in the days after the invasion. “I shouldn’t have those questions because I’m an athlete. I don’t decide on those questions,” he added.
And that’s a problem. Ovechkin is no longer just an athlete. He voluntarily decided to take on the role of political agitator. “Now he says he’s just an athlete. Ok, he said before that he was for Putin and young people aren’t afraid to say that either. When he launched his support when he invaded Ukraine in 2014, no one was holding his family. Now he’s just lying,” journalist Slava Malamud, who is from Russia and now lives in the United States, wrote on Twitter.
What do they encounter? In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia went through a difficult transition from communism to capitalism. Yuri Luzhkov, then mayor of Moscow and one of the founders of Putin’s United Russia political party, was heavily invested in women’s basketball club Dynamo, which was coached by Ovechkin’s mother, Tatiana. In an interview with the Sport Express daily in 2008, she said that she consulted Luzhkov “on all issues regarding Sasha’s hockey future”. This is Ovechkin’s first political line.
Relations with Putin began to develop in 2007 when they first faced each other, but only formed a friendship before the Sochi Olympics seven years later. The hockey player was one of the faces of the Games at the time.
This was followed by celebrations of world championship triumphs, wishes for Putin’s birthday and finally a personal gift from the Russian president to Ovechkin’s wedding in the form of a decorative tea set and a message which was read to all the guests.
But it wasn’t just politeness.
When the Russians invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, the leader also received support from the Russian striker. He had his picture taken with a sign: “Save the children from fascism. Our grandfathers and grandmothers saw the horrors of fascism, we will not allow it in our time. And he was wearing a T-shirt with the words “No war” on it. It is identical rhetoric that the Kremlin is spreading today. “We are denying Ukraine, we are peacekeepers, we don’t want war,” said the propaganda.
Be careful, it wasn’t just about Ovečkin. In the T-shirt with the inscription “Crimea is ours”, goalkeeper Semjon Varlamov, who now works in the New York Islanders, took a photo, which then proudly shared the film. Minnesota star Kirill Kaprizov has a celebratory photo with Putin on Instagram.
The president loves hockey and sees it as another way to have influence outside the federation. “It is an idea that Ovechkin symbolizes, for example. He is a strong man, an athlete who wins. Putin plays hockey, Ovechkin plays hockey. This is a natural idea, ”writes Mikhail Zygar in the book All the men in the Kremlin.
The culmination of Ovechkin’s political campaign in 2017, called Putin’s team, was already in full swing, trying to convince other famous athletes, especially young ones, to support the president. Other hockey players Yevgeny Malkin, Pavel Bure and figure skater Yevgeny Plushenko responded positively to his challenge.
However, the reactions were not only favorable. “Basically all my clients roll their eyes and say, ‘What the fuck?’ It’s like he’s lobbying for him to keep working in politics,” one of the Russian hockey agents told The Washington Post.
“It wasn’t about winning votes at all, Putin was equally sure of that. It was about showing loyalty to Ovechkin. ass and trying to make someone take notice. As protesters are caught and beaten in the streets, journalists are persecuted and killed, and Navalny is imprisoned, it is Ovechkin who swears love to Putin because he is the bravest,” Malamud added to Ovechkin’s political support.
The Russian striker is now trying to play the role of a man who has no choice because the regime he supported so zealously a few years ago is dangerous (and he has a family in Russia) .
At the same time, Kremlin watchers explain that while many celebrities may face direct and indirect pressure to participate in political campaigns, most agree that Ovechkin overcomes such pressures – he is too rich and prominent. Simply put, his support comes from his own volition.
The fact that they weren’t able to come to an agreement on the Ukrainian war, so they let the whole thing go crazy, also says the best about the differences between Russian hockey players.