mafia power play
Vyacheslav FetisovVyacheslav Fetisov: A world-famous Russian hockey player, Fetisov  played for the 1997 Stanley Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings,  An FBI investigation found he was linked to Russian mobster Vyacheslav Ivanko.
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When did you first decide that you wanted to play hockey in North America? Is that something that you grew up with as a boy?

No, never. I grow up with only one dream in my mind: to play for national team and [win] Olympic gold medals for my country, and play for World Championship.

So when did your ambition change? When did you decide and why?

The Russian who make business somehow is a criminal?  Or every Russian who [is] in a government position, criminal also?  I think it wrong.  Big time.  Big time.  They're good people there and they try to get out of, you know--its a pretty bad situation.  My ambitions never change. It was, they gave me offer before [1988] Olympic Games in Calgary. They said, You probably a Soviet player who wants to play in National Hockey League? And I said okay, fine. And then, Olympic Games in '88, [I] came to Calgary and talk to the high officials in the Pro Sport Committee in Soviet Union. And they promised they let me go . . .

So you were the beginning. . .

But was one year [afterward] and they [did not] let me go right away. I was supposed to stay [in North America] after Olympic Game, but it was long year for me. . . I was fighting for my rights, human rights and all this stuff, and the system didn't like those situations. For [the Army and Communists] it was easy to present separation as a conflict between [Central Red Army Coach Victor] Tikhonov and Sasha [Fetisov] . . .

And there was more of a conflict between Fetisov and the system, as opposed to Fetisov and an individual.

Oh yeah. . . It was biggest war I would say in my life . . . Almost nobody want to support me in this situation because you know it's - it's understandable. It's never happened before and I was in a double trap.

It's almost like a defection.

It's not defection. I had so many possibilities to defect but I was, I got too big of name to just run away from this situation. And like Gary Kasparov the World Champion chess[master], he told me you can open different possibility for Soviet people, not only athletes. You got big name, you got good support and you can do it. But you have to be strong mentally. It's not a situation many people can do. And I said, I got a few possibilities to defect . . . and they said I got too big a name to just run away. And I think in those time if I going to do this, I going to have my friends too. I think if I going to defect, they going to close the gate and I think I got kind of mission to fight through all this situation to get the gate open. . .

Get the gate open.

To get the gate open in the right way. And I mean it took too much energy from me, and mostly it was mental kind of disaster. And I remember when the situation was over and, and I get here. . . [I faced] another challenge to play in National Hockey League. But I was empty, empty physically and, and empty mentally. I was tired and I never think they let me go but they give me passport and airline ticket . . . They were thinking at the last moment to let me go or not. . . I was the first Soviet citizen who got multiple entrance from the American embassy. And there are many people from different professions call me and send the letters to say thank you because they got the opportunities in their life, and they got chance to go somewhere, do something different.

What do you think about what happened subsequently and the extent to which the National Hockey League has almost become dependent on Russians?

It's different hockey right now than was twenty years ago. I played so many games against NHL team those years then. I would say it's better hockey right now. . .

What do you think it did to the morale of young Russians when a bunch of Russian hockey players from Detroit took the Stanley Cup over there last year? What was the reaction?

The reaction was unbelievable. I was a little bit nervous when I ask [NHL Commisioner] Gary Bettman first time to let us bring the Cup and there was millions of questions, how they gonna be, how is security, how this? Like don't worry about it, it's going to be first class, and they send security people. . . [Russian] people know about Stanley Cup, people know about NHL and I think it's great . . . I never forget when it was opening night in soccer stadium, 90,000 people, president of Russia and Prime Minister and all big shots there. And it's in between periods and three of us was, you know, walking with the Cup around, you know, on soccer field and nobody was left in the seats. And next morning we went to the [Russian] White House and drink champagne from the cup with Prime Minister. . . And I think it's no more question Russian tough enough to play for Stanley Cup . . .

Now if the future of North American hockey depends on Europeans and Russians, what does, what should the National Hockey League be doing to help develop the talent, especially in a poor country like Russia?

To develop all this [Russian] hockey school again is going to take more time and more money. . . The people here have to think about how to help. . . .

But people suggest that, that this new capitalist system in Russia has become so corrupt that you can't really help the development of new hockey talent with money. The money disappears into other people's pockets. How much truth is there to that?

I know it's the same people still in power as it was ten years ago. . . And they're looking for their own interests all the time and to just send the money there, which means to give to somebody, and he's going to put in their own pockets and not going to think to help the kids or hockey program. . .

How big a problem is corruption?

Like example, Sergei Markharov and Vasily K. sign in the same year as me, right? [The Russian Hockey Federation] got compensation for these guys which was more than three million bucks. And one day . . . Sergei ask people from Federation where the money goes. It's supposed to go to the hockey school where those guys . . . developed as a hockey player. That was part of the deal. That money or any help of equipment or hockey sticks never was delivered to those schools. And nobody gave answer where was those three million bucks. . .

There was - there were reports, and they were subsequently backed up by a Congressional investigation, that Russian hockey players coming to North America were being intimidated. They were being forced to pay protection money to criminals from the old country. Is that still a problem?

I don't know, I never heard anybody to speak up about this problem and I know it was big news six years ago when it came out from Canada somehow. . . There wasn't any problem those times [when NHL players returned to play in Moscow during the off-season], but we got good protection, good security from, you know, government. And nothing happened those times. . .

So you don't believe that there's any. . .I mean, it was said that, that a Russian hockey player, maybe a Russian businessman, maybe a Russian entertainer working in North American has to have a kind of protector, a roof, a krysha.

Kyrsha?

What does that mean?

I don't know it's -- krysha means protection, right? But you have to be businessman. . . But if you have no business with anybody, I don't think there's going to be a problem there.

Some media investigators and law enforcement investigators have been very critical of connections between businessmen and sports people, including you, and people who are supposedly criminal. How does that affect you? I mean, what's your reaction to that?

It was pretty terrible news for myself and I didn't do anything wrong. . . If I did something like they said, laund[ering] money for some, you know, criminal groups of people, I probably wouldn't sit in front of you right now. . . An athlete's very popular in our country, everybody knows them. . . those stories, journalists try to, you know, sell your story. . .

You're going to do something about it.

Oh yeah, I'm going to do something about. I mean it's - was pretty cheap those. . .

And you're not the only person who's been, you know, who's been singled out. I mean Pavel Bure, Kamensky, all have been sort of questioned about associations with businessmen. What's behind that?

You can talk to the people until you know they do something wrong. . . But, like, you can't judge the people by somebody opinion. . . Definitely have to be careful what's going on. . .

Why don't you guys speak out more often, you know, when somebody questions? For example, there's this one association that gets you very upset every time it comes up and that's your involvement in this company called Slavic Incorporated. And why, you know, why do you get angry? Why do you-

I get angry?

Yeah.

I angry? I got nothing to hide, and like I said, anything here, you can't hide anything. . . I never was angry, but people call me to get interview, and they ask questions, I got nothing to do with this situation. And they try to throw the names and, you know, the facts and all this stuff. And I try to say it's -- I got nothing to do with this situation. And never get angry. I said if you want to talk about something else, I can talk.

But why do you deny the association with Slavic?

What association? It's not-

You were you know, you were a signing officer.

I'm denying that. . .

What was your understanding of the business for Slavic? What did you think Slavic was in business for?

It was trading.

A trading company.

Yes.

And it's not in business now it's-

No, I never did any business. I was playing hockey all my life. My school friend who in business, and I trust this man, I know him for more than twenty years. And, listen, it's -- it was very popular at those times to get kind of joint venture things. I mean you meet somebody from this side, you meet somebody from another side, and I mean it's a good company, never do anything wrong . . .

Mr. Ivankov is in jail now. What's your reaction to that situation?

What situation?

Mr. Ivankov being in prison.

What kind of reaction?

Well I mean he was involved in Slavic also wasn't he?

He never was involved in any Slavic situation that I know...

It was just you and a friend?

Yeah. . .

By the sound of things -- in the media, in the Congressional investigation -- Russia is run by criminal groups today. . .

The Russian who make business somehow is a criminal, right? Or every Russian who in a government position criminal also? I think it wrong. Big time. Big time. They good people there and they try to get out of, you know, --it's a pretty bad situation. But if you're going to judge everybody as a criminal, I think it's not right. My friends there, my father there, it's my relatives there. If you're going to call them criminals, it's not good, it's not right.

Do you suspect that there's somebody behind it, that there's some reason for this kind of - I'm sure from your point of view, slander. . .

If somebody meet me in a restaurant or on the street, going to talk to me about the hockey, about you know 1980 Olympic Games. . . I'm not going to say listen, I'm going to still discuss with you this situation only when you're going to show me your passport and all your documents?. . . I'm not going to do the business with people I don't know. . . People come to me, Slava, Hi, how you doing? How is New Jersey? How is Detroit? Or, remember I met you in Moscow in 1980 after World championships? I listen and I have to talk to the people and, you know, you can't certify people before you know. . . Every people who walk on the street, they free people, till they get convicted in the court. . . I know there's something going on there, but you can't call everybody criminals. It's wrong.

Do you think you're being treated fairly?

. . . I fight against most powerful system in the world, Communist system, and to beat the system I'm helpless here, you know. . . I was embarrass, I was in shock when this situation comes up. And all my life I try to do my job, playing hockey and help the people in different ways. . . And I get beat up for all this stuff. I get beat up by Communist system, I get beat up by you know. . . American system. . .

But Mr. Ivankov is in jail. [Former head of the 21st Century Association Otari] Kontrashvili is dead.

And ,ah, how -- and how you gonna relate me to these people?

Well you knew them.

Knew them? Yeah. Kontrashvili . . . I knew him twenty years before. He was still athlete and I was still athlete, so we met in dormitory together because all athlete was ah, get ready for the competition in same building. Yes, we know each other but I never knew what he's been doing, I never get any business with those people, never.

Not even Mr. Ivankov?

No.

You never did any business.

No.

Mr. Kontrashvili?

No.

What do you guys --

I'm not a businessman, like I said. I'm a hockey player. All money I make in my life it's playing hockey. And all name I get to play in hockey not to be businessman.

What are you famous Russian hockey players going to do about this problem that's becoming fairly large I think?

I don't think it's problem. If you're not going to talk about it, it's not a problem at all. I don't see any problem.

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