The lawyer for a Russian goalkeeper who was bound for the NHL before being abruptly detained outside a St. Petersburg hockey rink in July asked a Leningrad region court Thursday to overturn a draft board decision that led the player to be forced onto the Russian court. military.
Ivan Fedotov, 25, signed an entry-level deal in May with the Philadelphia Flyers.
He was expected to be at the team’s training camp this summer, but was detained after Russia’s military prosecutor’s office suspected he was trying to evade conscription and was taken to an enlistment office.
Fedotov’s lawyer, Alexei Ponomarev, filed a lawsuit against Fedotov’s compulsory military service, which the Vsevolozhsk city court will consider this fall.
Ponomarev told Russian media that he believes the recruitment is illegal because Fedotov does not live in St. Petersburg, where he was drafted into the army. He lives outside the city, but is registered in Moscow, where he plays hockey.
“If the decision is found to be illegal, he will be returned, regardless of whether he is already in compliance or not,” Ponomarev said in an interview with the Russian publication Gazeta.
Ponomarev did not respond to CBC’s request for an interview.
Russian officials insist that the case is not political or personal.
On July 23, the president of the Russian Hockey Federation, Vladislav Tretiak, spoke to the Russian outlet Matchtv and said that the law is the same for everyone.
But Russian recruiting experts and outside observers say Fedotov is being punished for his NHL ambitions and his desire to leave Russia at a time when relations with the West are dire and his political leaders they demand unreserved loyalty and patriotism from citizens.
“This is illegal. It violates several articles of the law, but sometimes the authorities resort to this when it is necessary to punish someone and send someone to the army,” said Sergey Krivenko, director of the Moscow-based non-governmental organization Citizen. . Army. Law.
Krivenko, who advises soldiers and their families on the rules of conscription, told the CBC that while Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 must complete a year of military service if they are drafted, not all are summoned and there is arbitrariness around. who is it and when
He said exemptions are frequently made for the elite and the politically connected, while others may offer bribes. Hockey managers who are motivated to protect their players can simply call a contact to make a request.
“They’ll just ask the defense minister, ‘Don’t call this guy. He’ll skate.'”
Rather, Krivenko said, if a player has fallen out of favor, hockey officials could request that he be drafted.
Fedotov signed a one-year, entry-level deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, who had drafted the Russian player in the seventh round of the 2015 NHL draft and were looking for him to be the team’s backup goaltender.
Following his arrest, the Flyers released a statement saying they were investigating the situation and had no further comment.
For Fedotov, the NHL deal was the culmination of what was considered a great season.
He was the starting goalkeeper for the Russian Olympic Committee team that won the silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.
At the end of April, his Russian hockey team CSKA won the main prize of the Continental Hockey League – the Gagarin Cup, named after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
CSKA, once strongly affiliated with the Soviet military, is now owned by Russian oil giant Rosneft, whose CEO Igor Sechin is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Yegor Bulchuk, a sports reporter for the online site Championat, said it is not an exaggeration to call Fedotov one of the most promising young goalkeepers in the world.
Asked if he feels Fedotov is being punished for trying to go to the NHL, he said, “It’s hard to say anything accurately and reliably” when it comes to this case.
Fedotov is reportedly expected to take the military oath on Saturday, nearly a month before his case is expected to go back to court.
More hockey players charged
On Wednesday, two other professional hockey players stood before a judge in Russia, accused of using a former police officer to help them pay bribes to a military enlistment office in an effort to avoid service.
Russian media reported that both players are under house arrest and could face up to 12 years in prison.
As far as the Fedotov case is concerned, Russian hockey players and officials have said very little publicly.
One of the few who has expressed his support for the goalkeeper is Grigori Panin, a KHL player and captain of the Salavat Yulaev Ufa team.
On Instagram, under a photo he posted of Fedotov, Panin criticized the silence of Russia’s “sports circle”, adding that a similar situation could happen to anyone, in particular young players “who glorify Russia abroad and defend our flag in different competitions”.
He wrote that Fedotov just wants to play hockey, but “someone somewhere doesn’t think so. It’s a precedent for everyone.”
Panin did not respond to CBC requests for an interview.
Sending a message
Slava Malamud, formerly a Russian sports reporter and now a math professor in Baltimore, says hockey in Russia has always been closely tied to politics, and the atmosphere is now supercharged.
“The powers that be in Russia are pretty much consolidated around the idea that their country is fighting for its life against the West. So any player leaving is definitely an ideological hit against that idea.”
Fedotov’s arrest, coupled with the sanctions and restrictions placed on Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine, prompted some NHL general managers and league officials to speak out about the potential risk and uncertainty of recruiting Russian players. But in last month’s draft, three went first-round and 23 were selected overall.
Still, Malamud believes Fedotov has been an example, and every KHL player knows it.
“I think the message that this sends now to the younger players in Russia [is]: ‘Get out while things are going well'”.
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