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Viewpoint: Let's not mix Riga Dinamo with sports

The announcement of the Dukurs brothers over boycotting the World Championships in Sochi, Russia was met with understanding and even enthusiasm in Latvia – they're good lads, the brothers, as there's nothing to be gained from going to such a bucket of dregs. The Russian reaction was quite the opposite, which is understandable. The story could end right here, if not for the involvement of Juris Savickis, a former KGB employee, current manager of the Rīga Dinamo ice-hockey team and the Itera Latvija gas company.

In an interview to Russian media, he said that the Dukurs brothers themselves should pass doping tests, that they're simply afraid. Skeleton is a piece of junk not a sport, and all of this casts a shadow on the pristine reputation of Dinamo. The express interview includes the call not to mix sports with politics - a phrase used by everyone brought down by a compromised conscience, if there's any to speak of in this case. 

It's a tune sounding throughout the ages, isn't it? Let's not mix sports, culture, art, etc. with politics. One quick-thinking lad is playing theater in Crimea - just don't mix it up with politics. Others are 'representing Europe' in a propaganda festival, under the accompaniment of Russian tanks and patriotic songs. But for God's sake, don't mix music with politics! Others serve as bait to draw people to the channels of the Kremlin - but, no politics, if you please, it's pure art.

People using these phrases are usually lying to themselves. Juris Savickis is not such a case. Everything's alright with his conscience and he doesn't have to lie to himself. His successful career at the KGB lets him deal with such inner dilemmas easily. It's useful schooling. He had it more difficult when he had to answer on Latvian Television over the occupation of Latvia, whether it indeed took place.

(The video is titled: Juris Savickis is hesitant to admit the occupation of Latvia.)

But what can you say when both answers are incorrect, depending on who hears them?

But that's just lyricism...

Why is it important to pay attention to what a single individual says?

First of all, Savickis is a very influential person in Latvia and has broad high-level ties with Russia. Secondly, at a time when Russia is heralding a propaganda campaign to divide Europe and strengthen its hold, for example, in Latvia, these announcements aren't just gossip.

Every public opinion carries weight, and in this fight even flies aren't accidentally hitting upon a fly ribbon. Why would Life.ru, the brightly yellow Russian outlet, would think to ask Savickis in particular to comment on skeleton? It's likely that it was planned by the editorial staff so that a scandal would be made from skeleton, and the right person was picked so that everyone talks about it.

"Let's call Savickis, he had something to do with shuffling on ice," someone said.

Does that sound plausible? I doubt it.

In Russia you shouldn't mix sports and popular culture with politics as there's no real difference between them. Both one and the other is part of politics. The sports project of Rīga Dinamo is just for the fans and the hockey players, but the goals of the club are different.

Who needs Dinamo Riga and why?

Why is it that each year some mystical "Russian money" is found to drag the club into a new season? Let's not talk about Dinamo as a business project – from the management of the club only [Guntis] Ulmanis could believe such things. He's trusting like that. While we're at it, let's ask why does Dinamo need Ulmanis? Do you think that he's attracting or luring sponsors, or perhaps that it's his knowledge and experience they need? Raise your hands everyone who believes in that. Thank you... I thought so.

As a former president of Latvia, Ulmanis is but a signboard.

The management of Rīga Dinamo says that the hockey club helps developing hockey in Latvia and gives the chance for young hockey players to play at a high level.

I admit that it seemed plausible to me until a while ago. However, facts testify that Dinamo promotes the degradation of hockey, and the most talented young hockey players have not motivation to make it into the NHL or good European clubs if they have a warm, well-paid place here. The performance of our hockey team and Dinamo itself testifies to that.

Only one and a half hockey players from Latvia are at the NHL right now. But would the picture look so bad if there were no KHL and Dinamo?

In the end, the idea that Russia could invest tens of millions of dollars/euros to develop Latvian hockey is just too absurd to be treated seriously. Dinamo Riga is a political project, part of the big plan to strengthen Russian presence and influence in Latvia. Strengthening cultural, sports and other ties is just as important as developing economic and political influence. The tighter they are on an emotional level, the easier it is for the propaganda machine to tamper with our brains. 

I don't know what's it like for you, but each time the Soviet anthem resounds in the Arena Riga sports hall, shivers run through my bones. It's good that it's taking place on my TV so I can change the channels.

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