The week of October 20th, Russia hosted a million-dollar ATP tennis tour event in St. Petersburg.
Showing how attractive Russia is as a venue, not one of the top three players in the world attended the event, and only two of the top 10 did so.
This left Russia with four of the eight seeds in the tournament, including its highest-ranked player Nikolay Davydenko as well as Mikhail Youzhny, Marat Safin and Dimitry Tursunov. Not one of them made it to the third round of the tournament.
Tursunov, world #26, was crushed in straight sets by an unseeded Slovakian in his first-round match. The Russian won only two of 14 games played. The other three (higher-ranked) Russians won their opening-round matches against their unseeded opponents, then were blown off the court in their second matches in easy straight sets. Davydenko didn’t even step on the court and handed his match over by forfeit. Safin won six games and Youzhny took nine in humiliating losses against their unseeded opponents.
Ouch. Only one top-ten non-Russian appeared in Putinland, and that player easily won the event over a non-Russian opponent.
As if things weren’t already bad enough for Russian sportsmen, Indian Vishy Anand raced out to a 6-3 dominating lead in the world chess championship, being contested in Bonn, Germany, over Russian star Vladimir Kramnik. With only four games remaining, that meant Kramnik had to win them all in order to take the title. Think he was able to do so?
And for the icing on this putrid cake, out came the New York Times with a story exposing the Potemkin fraud that is Russian professional ice hockey.
The Times reports that Russia has bribed hockey star Jaromir Jagr to play in Russia in one of the great shams of modern sports history:
Earlier, after a morning skate-around, Jagr could only laugh when I asked about Avangard’s business ledger, given the expense of a glittery new arena, the price of season tickets (the top seats cost almost $800), the lack of a merchandising tradition. “They don’t care about the money,” he said. “It’s about the oil. It’s all about sponsors here, and no sponsor’s going to get their money back. If the oil is sponsoring you, and the price of oil went up three times, instead of making whatever, $100 million a day, you get $300 million a day.”
“It’s not a business,” concedes Potapov, the Avangard president who spent 18 years at the Omsk refinery and wooed Jagr in Prague during the lockout at the request of the regional governor. “This is sports — we’re blessed with backers, people who give money not for a return in profits.”
But the Russians lap up such ridiculous lies like cream. Kremlin functionary Slava Fetisov raves: “We needed a superstar. Someone who we could hold up to the world and say, ‘Look who wants to come to Russia, to play for Russian fans.’ That’s the difference, the way Russia will change world sports.”
The Times sums it up:
Whatever the “sponsor,” the ultimate power in Russian pro sports remains political. “The oligarchs are fighting each other for the chance to sponsor a team,” Andrei Illarionov, once a top economic adviser to Putin and now in self-exile in Washington, told me. “But it’s not their initiative. It’s an order from the Kremlin. It was Putin, and now Medvedev, who tells them to support this or that team.”
And so it goes in Potemkin Russia, where the lie is loved and the truth is terrible.