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Sept. 3, 2015 — Dictating a result

This week, it was reported that Russian president Vladimir Putin took part in a hockey game with a team of Kontinental Hockey League and National Hockey League all-stars.

Putin’s team won the game 9-5. Against a team of schoolkids.

Authoritarian leaders have often used sport as a means of not only propaganda, but as an extension of their political power. Rafael Trujillo, the 31-year dictator of the Dominican Republic, owned a baseball team in the domestic league. If it did not do well, Trujillo would import players from the American Negro Leagues to ensure that the team would win league championships.

During the Cold War, individual states would excel as part of their leaders’ state propaganda machines. This happened for Romania’s gymnasts, East Germany’s swimmers, Yugoslavia’s basketball players, and, of course, the Soviet Union in men’s ice hockey, which had been the dominant program in the 1960s and 70s.

As Russia has evolved towards a petro-authoritarian state the last few years, it is noticeable that the state has tried to show itself to be strong in world affairs, seizing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine last year and engaging in military maneuvers, large and small, around the globe.

The ice hockey game with the all-stars was another propaganda tool.

That is, until you think about the event’s result. What did Putin and the other players hope to gain by beating a team of teenagers? It wasn’t exactly a fair competition or exhibition.

The game is a perfect metaphor for recent Russian saber-rattling when it comes to trying to wield its own military and economic power. It can only seem to overwhelm those who are already at a disadvantage.

The game also served as a distraction from a number of problems which have befallen the state over the last year. Economic sanctions and a precipitous fall in oil prices have crippled the economy.

It has gotten to the point where the very group helping to organize the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the Football Union of Russia, is near bankruptcy according to many reports.

Vitaly Mutko, a Russian government minister, is now being tasked with keeping preparations on track. It also turns out that Mutko is a FIFA vice-president.

This can’t end well.

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