By TONY SEED
The U.S. men’s hockey team massively lost their qualifying gold medal game, 4-0, on February 17 at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics,
The Russians did it.
It seems that US head coach Tony Granato and his team badly under-estimated their opponents. Due to the selfish boycott of the Winter Olympics by the NHL owners, the US did not bring its best athletes. They were “battered, manhandled, shut out and generally embarrassed by a team of hockey players from Russia” the Globe and Mail moaned, openly casting the match in outmoded Cold War terms and blatant anti-Russian propaganda and sterotypes.
Now Team USA will have to play Slovakia just to advance to qualify for the bronze medal. Slovakia! A small country of just over 5 million people created on January 1, 1993 by the partition of the former Czechoslovakia following the break up of the former USSR, sometimes known as the Velvet Divorce. Blowback? Its team defeated Russia 3-2 in the opening match yet the Globe and Mail airily dismissed it as “another hockey backwater.”
Right after the match wrapped up, Mr Granato was quick to react. Instead of taking responsibility, the head coach openly refused to shake hands with the head coach of the Russian team.
Was he afraid that if he touched a Russian he would be infected with the dreaded norovirus? The sports website Inside the Games explictly reported that Mr Granato rejected the handshake because he was dissatisfied with Oleg Znarok’s decision to send his strongest players to the ice to capitalize on a power play opportunity near the end of the game:
“Granato took offence at how Russian counterpart Oleg Znarok opted to send his strongest players onto the ice for a power play at the close of the game, despite the winning margin having already been secured at the Gangneung Hockey Centre.
“‘I didn’t like it, it was 4-0,’ he said afterwards.”
The principles of fair play and sportsmanship including respect for one’s opponent are a modern norm of sport. Instead of upholding these principles, the IOC and the monopoly media, who are posturing to be for “clean games” and “clean athletes,” has conveniently hushed up the boorish incident. Perhaps the refusal to sanction the US coach and, in a related controversy, the US women goalies with their helmets painted with an image of the Statue of Liberty, has more to do with the lucrative NBC deal and the broadcast of a marquee sport in an effort to bolster its falling ratings in the USA. The geopolitical offensive of US imperialism to monopolize all spheres of sport, isolate the Russian Federation and dehumanize its athletes is another very important factor in the shady behind-the-scenes maneouvres taking place inside the IOC – and in the monopoly media.
In August 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sent Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby home after he refused to shake his Israeli opponent’s hand at the Rio Olympics. At the time, the IOC stated that the Egyptian’s conduct “was contrary to the rules of fair play and against the spirit of friendship embodied in Olympic values” and handed down “severe reprimand”, sending the 34-year-old home. Even in the NHL, team shake hands after a playoff series is over and very few violate that norm. Yet the IOC deems the American coach an exception to “the rules of fair play and against the spirit of friendship embodied in Olympic values” to be rewarded with impunity.
The Russian team and athletes, despite being humiliated by being forced to play as so-called “Olympic athletes from Russia”, choose not to reply to the provocation by Team USA at the Winter Olympics.
Whether the US badly underestimated the Russian team or not, the outcome reveals another factor at play on the ice, a very important factor which cannot be underestimated. The USA and the media did not count on the morale, the dignity, and patriotism of the athlete, the honour of it all. The fact that they are representing a definite people constitutes a force that must be added to the known skill, talent, discipline and effort that each of its hockey players is capable of achieving under normal conditions. This factor also underlies the competitive, all-out performances of other national teams such as Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Germany who are habitually denigrated by the media as “minnows,” “inferior” and “hockey backwaters.”
The culture of the athletes and their response to the match did not mirror the arrogant and chauvinist attitude of superiority. Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored two of the goals and who had chosen to return to the KHL in Russia rather than playing out his illustrious career for the big bucks in the NHL, wryly pointed out to the media, “After the last game in Sochi, I think you guys are still showing the highlights of [T.J.] Oshie scoring those shootouts, right? So hopefully you’re going to change that now.”
The principle that relations in sport be based on the relations of equality of nations, big and small or the principle that every nation is as equally as important as the next nation means nothing to these big nation Anglo-American chauvinists, let alone the principles of friendship between peoples and their athletes and respect for one’s opponents.
Mr Granato’s consolation prize is to become the first American winner of the coveted Hope Solo Olympic Medal for Sore Loser. A worthy recipient indeed!
Hope Solo was the goalkeeper for the U.S. Women’s soccer team, who infamously called Sweden a “bunch of cowards” for its defensive tactics after it eliminated the United States from the Rio Olympics. She is also alleged to have assaulted her sister and 17-year old nephew in June of that year. In the run-up to the Games, she posed with various anti-mosquito products, contributing to the propaganda about the Vika virus epidemic. In turn, Brazilians taunted Solo with boos and apparent chants of “Zika!” when she had the ball.