Kukla's Korner

Inside the Russian Sports Machine

For an inside peek into what’s bankrolling the resurgence in Russian professional sports (the KHL and beyond), Sports Illustrated had a fascinating story on one of its key players. This man’s involved primarily with basketball but you get a good sense of what’s happening over there.

Imagine Mark Cuban with three times as many teams and five times as much money. He’d still be a piker compared with the Russian zillionaires who offer a life of luxury to lure world-class athletes and are bankrolling a new national sports machine…

...“There is a very big difference between having $100,000 and a million,” says Kalmanovic, who goes on to hint at the extent of his own wealth. “For sure there’s a difference between having $1 million and $3 million, but after $150 million or $200 million, you’re just rich. So if you understand that you can’t eat breakfast twice, and you can wear only one tie at a time, there might as well be something else. There still isn’t enough of a middle class in Russia for sport to pay for itself. And you cannot deduct expenses on sport [from your taxes]. So you need to have a very big heart and very big balls, and need to be something between a fanatic and a patriot. And a little bit crazy.”

Like you?

“O.K. Like me.”

Whether they’re fanatics, patriots, fools or some combination of the three, sports sugar daddies like Kalmanovic have surfaced all over Mother Russia. Virtually every prominent sport and prestigious club team has a patron—if not one of the oligarchs (the well-connected, early-moving businessmen who became billionaires after the collapse of the Soviet Union), then some arriviste multimillionaire minigarch or well-placed politician with the influence to flush out cash. “Russians by nature are a people intrigued by the idea of power,” says David Blatt, the American-Israeli coach of Dynamo Moscow and the Russian national men’s team, who in 2007 delivered Russia’s first title since Soviet days at Eurobasket, the biennial competition among European national teams. “It’s culturally ingrained—whether fear of power or enjoyment in having it. These guys use sports to amuse themselves and further their own interests. Russia is steeped in the tradition of sports, and they combine that passion with money.”

Read the entire piece at SI’s website.

Filed in: International Hockey, | Mike Chen's Hockey Blog | Permalink
  Tags: khl, russia

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