Friday, August 24, 2018

Many of Russia’s Best Athletes Now Moving Abroad, Giving Up Russian Citizenship, and Competing for Other Countries

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 24 – What had been a rare occurrence is now a flood, Moscow journalist Valery Burt says. Dozens of Russia’s best athletes are now leaving the country, giving up Russian citizenship and competing for other countries, bringing glory to the latter and costing Russia championships.

            In a Stoletiye commentary today, Burt lists some of the growing number of “ex-Russian” athletes in a wide variety of fields who have gone abroad to Ukraine, Belarus, South Korea, Spain, Canada, and Australia, adding there are even more athletes and more destinations than he has given (

            Why is this happening? Burt asks rhetorically. The biggest reason he suggest lies in Russian coaching staffs who are not paying attention to their charges, not talking to them about why they should remain in Russia, and not allowing younger potential stars the early opportunities that many of them can gain immediately if they are somewhere else.

                “It is sometimes said,” Burt continues, “that an individual learns from his own mistakes. With some people that is certainly the case, but not with Russia’s sports leaders. They with unenviable constancy continue to lose people who could bring glory to the country and raise its prestige.”

            Coaches in other countries understand very well that “Russians can raise the authority of their countries. If Moldova at some competition successfully takes part in a biathlon, this will be a big event and not only for sport.  Each representative of this small republic who in any way distinguishes himself abroad will go down into the country’s sports annals.”

            If the way to success is to attract athletes from Russia and give them the attention and respect they need, then coaches in places like Moldova will do what coaches in Russia are not – and future Russian stars will become Moldovan ones instead, Burt argues.

            Russian coaches and sports officials need to constantly tell their athletes that “Russia respects and values them.” If that happens, then these sportsmen “will ascend the pedestal of honor to the sounds of our native hymn. And with tears in their eyes, they will watch as our native flag is raised.”

            But if Russian coaches and sports officials don’t, it will soon be true that there will be entire teams of ex-Russians competing under the flags of others and bringing honor to them rather than to the country in which they were born.

            While the circumstances are somewhat different, this exodus of talented Russians recalls a Radio Armenia joke from late Soviet times: “What do you call a Soviet string quartet?” Radio Armenia is asked. Radio Armenia replies: “That is the Bolshoy Symphony orchestra after a foreign tour.”

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