Fallen idols — Russian footballers

What kind of people should be your national heroes? How did football players became, for some people, a part of the national elite?

pic by AFP

LAST week’s biggest media event in Russia was, easily, the trial of the two former national heroes, Alexander Kokorin and Paul Mamayev. Both are superstars of the national football teams, and let us not forget that less than a year ago Russia was hosting the World Cup 2018. Both names gured prominently in the lists of the national team, which translated to huge fame and admiration.

But that fame did not last long. On Oct 18, Kokorin and Mamayev with some friends, after a night-long drinking, had entered a Moscow café where people were already gathering for breakfast.

One of cafe’s clients had advised them to calm down, stop roaring and take the feet of the table. He was hit with a chair on his shoulder. Minutes before, the same sports heroes had attacked a driver of a TV anchor lady.

In both cases they were shouting something like “you got yourself a problem, man, you crossed the way of Kokorin and Mamayev”.

The trial is being followed by millions. Some believed that people of Kokorin and Mamayev status should not end up behind bars and should be acquitted.

In the end, the drinking stars were sentenced to around 11⁄2-year jail term.

Interestingly, they already served part of the jail term while waiting for the trial. The comments were also predictable like “the national elite cannot place itself above the rest”.

I might be the only writer here, asking a very bad question: “How did football players became, for some people, a part of the national elite? Maybe there are different words for it? Let them be ‘stars’ with all the double meaning behind that dubious title.

You may remember my column https://themalaysianreserve. com/2018/06/27/the-world-cup-stadiumon-my-street/ which I wrote last year when the World Cup was roaring at the new stadium next to my house.

“I can’t help feeling that something is wrong about sports today,” I said in that piece, adding: “It used to be something entirely else, much more humanoriented, only a few decades ago.”

Now hopefully, there are more people who find that “something is wrong”. If not the sportspeople, then the public’s attitude towards them.

What kind of people should be your national heroes? Your national elite? Who should be admired and for what?

Do you put physical prowess above all other things to admire and get into the top 10? Does it come below or above achievements in science or fine arts?

Russia’s history makes an interesting study. There were times when the daring explorers were idols, the ones who braved the waves or the sky with some new and wondrous gadgets.

People who invented these machines were idols. Then there were war heroes and others who climbed from the very bottom to the top and became the revered people.

I intentionally omitted the political content of that hero worship during imperial and communist times. In any case, under any regimes, the great sportspeople had no hopes of making to the very top of the glory lists although they always had a place somewhere near the top.

There was a wonderful man who changed my life almost five decades ago. He was my trainer in rowing.

“I can make you a champion, you have the material for that, I can see it,” he said.

“But you run the risk of reading no books, writing no books, of being unable to utter a coherent passage of several phrases. You’ll have no time and no right company for that. You’ll get your university diploma, for sure, since there is always a quota for sports people, together with a quota for the invalids.

“But that diploma will mean nothing. You may need skills and knowledge when you are 30 years old when your physical shape will start to fail you. So, make your choice.”

I made my choice and forever grateful to that man. I remember him now, seeing a kind of an “alternative me” in these two physical giants with the minds of unruly adolescents.

A nation — any nation — is an interesting phenomenon. You will never know how it evolves. Is it the public’s ideas about what makes the elite that influence the elite itself or is it vice versa. Or, should we ask ourselves who is entitled to shape the values of a nation — school teachers, religious teachers, or, God forbids, the football players?

The fall of the two Russian idols may help many Russians to rethink about what makes a perfect human being.

  • Dmitry Kosyrev is an author of 8 novels and a book of short stories, as well as a columnist for 2 Moscow publications. Orientalist by education (Moscow University), he has a special love for Malaysia. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.