Jun 26, 2008

Politics in Sport? No way...

Josh Patashnik over at the New Republic has an interesting take on Russia’s march through the European Championship:

Russian soccer has been in a two-decade slump--failing to qualify for some tournaments and quickly being eliminated from others--that's mirrored the country's geopolitical funk. So it's not surprising that geopolitics helps explain the team's success this year.

First, everyone roll your eyes and groan. Now, consider:

--Roman Abramovich is personally paying Guus Hiddink’s $4 million salary to coach the Russian team. “Part of a tacit bargain with the Kremlin that keeps Abramovich and others of his ilk from meeting the kind of fate that befell imprisoned tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.”

--Andrei Arshavin, “the team's musically gifted striker who tore up the Dutch defense in Russia's quarterfinal victory, sits on the St. Petersburg city council as a member of Putin's United Russia party,” and Gazprom is paying his salary. "He wants to play for Barcelona,” says Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, “but I don't think they can pay him more than he earns now."

Patashnik notes, “There are worse things an authoritarian petro-state could spend its money on” but suggests cheering for Spain anyway.

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