April 19, 2019

Politics and sports should not be mixed

He is a proud man and one of the best hockey players the world has ever known. At the age of 38, he is the oldest player in the NHL and plays for the Detriot Red Wings.

Vircheslav “Slava” Fetisov is a defenseman who headed the vaunted Soviet Red Army teams of the 1980s. Those teams won two gold medals and lost the ever-to-be remembered game against the U.S. in the “do-you-believe-in-miracles” finish.

He has performed in 11 world championships and played more than 400 games in the NHL, even though he came to the states to play when he was 31. Three times he was voted the best player in Europe and he is a member of the elite Soviet Sports Hall of Fame, which has less than 30 members.

Politics and sports are not good bedfellows, although that match seems to be happening more often everywhere. Nowhere is it of a more personal nature than what is happening to Fetisov. His future awaits the outcome of an election.

Fetisov is anti-communist. He supported the overthrow of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union and continues to support the democratic progress of the now Confederation of Independent States. There is an election coming up on June 16 that will direct his future.

That election is for the soul of the CIS. There will be seven or eight candidates in the first round. They’re evenly split between those who want the democratic progress to continue, and those who wish a return to some form of the Communist or Socialist state.

The current Yeltsin government has asked Fetisov to come back to Russia to head the entire national sports program. Fetisov would like to play some more in the NHL, but his contract is up in Detroit and it is questionable whether he will be offered a new deal there or with another team.

“I will await the outcome of the election,” he says. He is concerned for more than his own future when he speaks of the vote that will require a run-off if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

“There is a chance for civil war if the hard-line Communists return to power,” Fetisov says. “Those over the age of 60 make up a large part of the population and they have had it the hardest making the change. They have less than they had before and would like to go back.”

If that happens, he cannot go back, for he would be an enemy of any Communist government.

Fetisov is proud of his heritage. “I look at my children and wonder how to explain their history. The country they are from no longer exists.” He lowers his head and shakes it back and forth, sadly. “What do you say when there is no country? Where is your history then?”

His eyes moisten. “It is hard to have all that you worked for as a nation taken away.” He is not unhappy that Communism is gone, but had hoped for a democratic Soviet Union rather than the breakup into independent states, renewing the boundaries of hatred.

So he awaits the election and his future. For myself, to have ever believed I would embrace a leader of the Soviet Red Army team and find in this man’s character so much to respect, is a long way from Old Town and the University of Maine. I’m glad I’ve had the chance. Slava Fetisov is one of those people you thank God you had the chance to meet and come to know in life.

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