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Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 10:27 GMT
Belarus president's ice hockey victory
Lukashenko: Waved at the crowd, then fell...
By BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey

The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, is holding official meetings in Moscow on Tuesday in the afterglow of a great sporting victory.

Sport is diplomacy and politics - actually No, it's great politics

Alexander Lukashenko
He led a Belarusian team to an 8:3 triumph against a Russian side of ministers, senators and former professionals, in Moscow's Luzhniki stadium on Monday night.

Mr Lukashenko even got a warm write-up for his performance - in a team mainly composed of veteran Belarusian sportsmen - in the Russian press.

"The Belarusian president was not lost on the rink," wrote the business daily, Kommersant.

"He made up for his drawbacks in speed and other purely sporting aspects with flair.

"He repeatedly turned up in the right place at the right time."

Passionate about sport

Mr Lukashenko, playing as number 99, himself scored once - though he began the game by waving to the crowd, then falling to the ice in front of the Russian net.

Lukashenko plays ice hockey
A president on ice: Lukashenko has ordered rinks all over Belarus
"Sport is diplomacy and politics," he said.

"Actually no, it's great politics, especially ice hockey."

Mr Lukashenko's passion for sport is well known.

European diplomats have been known to tease him for naming himself head of the country's Olympic committee - in contravention of Olympic rules.

He, in turn, once declined to meet a high-ranking delegation from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe on the grounds that he was expected at an important football match.

He travels widely to support the national team at international sports championships, and does not enjoy defeat.

Ferocious footballer

Mr Lukashenko, who once appeared on television sporting a black eye which he said he incurred while playing hockey, has had ice skating rinks built in all of Belarus's main cities.

He is not the only sporting president in the former Soviet Union.

Russian president Vladimir Putin - who Mr Lukashenko is meeting in the Kremlin - is a keen judo player, while his predecessor Boris Yeltsin was a top student volleyball player who later enthusiastically took up tennis.

The President of Armenia, Robert Kocharian, is a respected basketball player.

Before becoming president Mr Lukashenko used to play football regularly with other members of the Belarusian parliament.

Some of them remember him as a ferocious player, who, instead of chasing the ball, would sometimes pursue other players whom he accused of playing dirty.

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See also:

16 Oct 00 | Europe
Belarus vote condemned
19 Jun 98 | Europe
Alexander Lukashenko: a profile
18 Jan 99 | Europe
EU ambassadors back to Belarus
20 Jun 98 | Europe
Troubled relations with the West
21 Jun 98 | Europe
Diplomatic stink in Belarus
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