This is a new affair that mixes sport and geopolitics in Russia. For several days, the local and international media have been talking about the arrest, in his country, then the disappearance of Russian ice hockey player Ivan Fedotov. The 25-year-old Olympic vice-champion in Beijing, signed a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers franchise in May to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). According to several media, he has since sought to avoid performing his military service, compulsory in Russia for men aged 18 to 27.
According to AFP, the player’s lawyer, Alexei Ponomarev, claims that Fedotov was sent to Severomorsk, in the Murmansk region of the harsh Far North, where there is a major naval base. The information is falling to the dropper, and no official communication from the Kremlin or another institution has made it possible to have concrete news from the athlete.
The Philadelphia Flyers remain quite vague on the matter. “We are aware of the information and are investigating the situation. We have no further comment at this time,” Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a statement. (in English) sent to CNN. Contacted by franceinfo: sport, the franchise did not respond to our requests.
Questioned by the press, the Kremlin spokesman remained evasive. Dmitry Peskov recalled that “Iobligation to perform military service is included in Russian law”. “Dsentimental discussions around this subject are inappropriate”he added.
“The vast majority of top athletes escape military service, and it’s very easy, assures Lukas Aubin, doctor in geopolitics, specialist in Russia and sport. Athletes are indeed considered very important patriotic elements to improve Russia’s image abroad.”
“Even an ordinary citizen in Russia can escape it with bribes and other shenanigans.”Lukas Aubin, Russia and sports specialist
at franceinfo: sport
Thereby, Ivan Fedotov became a “symbol, and a signal sent by the Kremlin to all Russian athletes, to warn them and tell them: ‘If you seek to evade your military service, to leave Russian territory, and ultimately to escape the national effort to which all Russian citizens must participate, then you can potentially be repressed'”, continues the author of Sportokratura under Vladimir Putin.
“He has no reason to escape military service. Ivan was never called up. He did not evade the call from the military registration and enlistment office”, affirms for his part Alexei Ponomarev, quoted by the site of the Russian state media RIA Novosti (article in Russian). Still according to the lawyer ofIvan Fedotov, the player “was taken to hospital” after his arrest because he felt ill. “Mbut I don’t have any more information”he said, quoted by AFP.
Ivan Fedotov has been inactive on his Instagram account for several weeks. His last post, dated June 2, was recently commented on by dozens of people with a simple hashtag #freefedotov (“Free Fedotov”).
This situation shows that Russia, already singled out for the case around American basketball player Brittney Griner, is “closes in on itself to maintain a very strong national and patriotic feeling in the context of this war in Ukraine, which is more broadly a war against the West, NATO and the United States of course”, analyze Lukas Aubinwho talks about “sports new cold war”. A cold war in 2022 very different from the 1980s. “We are returning to a form of perestroika but in reverse. At the time, high-level Soviet athletes sought to go abroad, notably to the United States and Canada. They succeeded in doing so, often at the cost and at the end of a showdown with the central state and Mikhail Gorbachev.”
Today, athletes can no longer risk standing up to the Russian regime without risking reprisals “ranging from sporting sanctions to more serious sanctions”. Like Ivan Fedotov, who faces up to two years in prison. So, will the Russian be able to join the United States to start his season as planned? For now, nothing is less certain.