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The latest keeper of the republic

Moscow, 14 May 2005 | The cult figure of the Russian goalkeeper has a new incarnation. So writes Jonathan Wilson of CSKA Moscow's Igor Akinfeyev ("Young Keeper of a Russian Tradition," Financial Times). The 19-year-old

Akinfeyev is the man between the pipes. (CSKA)
will start for the Army Central Sports Club side when it faces Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday in the UEFA Cup final. CSKA will attempt to become the first Russian club team to win a European trophy. Goalkeepers loom large in the Russian imagination, writes Wilson, dating to children's author Lev Kassil's Stalinist-era Goalkeeper of the Republic (1939) and to the real-life exploits of legendary Lev Yashin. According to Keith A. Livers in "The Soccer Match as Stalinist Ritual" (The Russian Review, October 2001), Kassil's work helped correlate football with statist ambition. "[T]he ritualized soccer match," Livers writes, "provides Stalinism with a microcosm of society's struggles, encouraging the body social to continuously review and remake itself while doing mythical battle with its enemies" (599).

The Kassil tale features Anton Kandidov as protagonist. In an all-too-common scenario, he is tapped as goalkeeper when a scout notices his skill at catching falling watermelons.

The CSKA team formed in 1923, but the club's background dates to the Ski Sport Amateur Society (founded 1901) and the launch of a football section in 1911 (unknown side pictured above). Original team member Constantin Zhiboedov recalls his early years training in a forest: "[O]ne had to get past people, and trees and everything."
Kandidov even scores a famous goal against a traveling Basque side and, Wilson writes, "[j]ust in case anybody hadn't worked out the political message, the most famous song of the [film adaptation] contained the lines, 'Hey, keeper, prepare for the fight / You are a sentry in the goal. / Imagine there is a border behind you.' " Yashin added to the cultural fascination with goalies by leading Russia to the semifinals of the 1966 World Cup and to the gold-medal stand at the 1956 Olympic Games and 1960 European Championships. The man in black, Wilson writes, "is like the Dalai Lama—every generation has its own incarnation." Even though the current CSKA side has two Brazilians in attack, this should not keep the club—still partly owned by the defense industry with the prominent backing of Chelsea savior Roman Abramovich—from invoking tradition and national pride. Said Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to the team after a semifinal victory over Parma, "You played and won for Russia. For the veterans of World War II whose holiday is coming" (Kevin O'Flynn, "CSKA Grant Abramovich Reflected Glory," Daily Telegraph [U.K.], 15 May).

Dostoevsky and the gamblers

Saint Petersburg, Russia, 3 March 2005 | Russian lottery Chestnaya Igra, which raises funds for football and other sports stadiums, has found legal trouble due to one of its celebrity endorsers: celebrated native writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. Great-grandson Dmitry has sued for what he claims is illegal use of the author's image on a lottery ticket. He also objects to the use of his
Scratch and win!
The Dostoevsky ticket, as issued by Russian lottery Chestnaya Igra, which means "honest play." (St. Petersburg Times)
great-grandfather in backing a gambling scheme, when Dostoevsky fought a lifelong addiction—his novel The Gambler was in part an autobiographical tale. (Dostoevsky's addiction was also the subject of Leonid Tsypkin's novel Summer in Baden-Baden.) Dmitry has trademarked the Dostoevsky name and also plans to go after the local Dostoevsky Hotel: "[T]hey have a bed with the great writer's name written on the bed. This is plain dirty, and far too low to be tolerated" (Galina Stolyarova, "Betting Image Spurs Suit," St. Petersburg Times, 4 February). It is unclear if the dispute will disrupt fund-raising for Moscow's two-pronged bid for the 2012 Olympics and European football championships. Perhaps lottery organizers should exchange Dostoevsky's image for Kenny Rogers.

The Reindeer Are Dying, but the People Have Dolby Surround
Journalism of such high quality truly makes us weep. At risk of turning into nothing more than a blogging engine for the Guardian, we nevertheless feel compelled to call attention to Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark's weekend report on

A burovaya, or screw-drill oil rig, rests on the Siberian tundra.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's extensive business holdings, especially his checkered history with Russian oil giant Sibneft (" 'He Won, Russia Lost' "). Levy and Scott-Clark, a freelance writing and filmmaking team and authors of The Stone of Heaven: The Secret History of Imperial Green Jade, visit some of Sibneft's 10,000 oil rigs in Chukotka in western Siberia, the province of which Abramovich is governor.

In Noyabrsk, "a tiny, ice-white blip that is permanently covered in hoarfrost," the reporters meet Sibneft functionaries and ask company workers how one man, Abramovich, came to gain a £5.3 billion portion of a company privatized only 10 years ago. The answer, naturally, is complicated, but involves Abramovich's close relationship to former president Boris Yeltsin, the acquisition of employee shares by questionable means—allegedly facilitated by the government—and the impoverishment of fellow Russians, which enabled the 37-year-old Abramovich and other speculators to consolidate their holdings. Left behind on the hoarfrost, though, are those suffering the economic and environmental consequences. Says Mikhail Karpenko, who has lived in Noyabrsk since 1974:

Abramovich never spent his nights in the back of an oil fire-heated truck. He never assembled the rigs when a gusher was struck or helped carve out the rail tracks and roads that brought in more labour. But he did scoop up the shares of those too poor and uneducated to appreciate their potential value. He did hustle thousands more out of their stake in Russian oil as the economy collapsed around them. He won. Russia lost.

Levy and Scott-Clark also talk to Nenet tribespeople, to whom Sibneft pays meager compensation for exploiting the oil-rich territory. Sitting in a chum made of animal hides, Nadezhda says the compensation is £280 per year. "Is it a good deal? The trees are dying. In the summer, the fish float up dead in the river. The reindeer are sick. Once, we thought our world was so large. You could ski for miles and never see a chum. Now, the oil rig flares are getting nearer and Sibneft tells us we have to move."

Update: Investigative reporter John Sweeney of BBC2 had a look-see into the Abramovich empire (Sweeney Investigates, 20 January 2005), following on the research of Dominic Midgley and Chris Hutchins in Abramovich: The Billionaire from Nowhere. The conclusion seems to be that Abramovich is not shifty, just lucky, having bought state oil assets when they were available on the cheap. The most severe critique is that he has helped plunder the worth of his native soil and given little in return. "[S]ince the fall of the Soviet Union," writes Jim White of The Telegraph ("Chelsea Fans Might Soon Ask When Will Abramovich Really Put His Hand in His Pocket," 22 January 2005), "for all the proliferation of Moscow's McDonald's and Mercedes outlets, inward investment into Russia from the West is less than one seventh of the amount of capital that has flowed the other way. Much of that money has fetched up in Chelsea." | back to top