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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 16:10 GMT
Red Army gives up stolen sportsmen
ice hockey
The scandal shocked many in the Russian ice hockey
Three Russian ice hockey players are finally back home in Siberia after a week-long drama in which they were seized and ordered by the army to play for a Moscow team.

The army realised it was pointless to keep the Omsk players in Moscow

Spokesman, Ice Hockey Federation of Russia

Alexander Svitov, Stanislav Chistov and Kirill Koltsov - key players the Omsk team, Avangard - were snatched by police from their team's hotel in Moscow and delivered to the training base of the army ice hockey squad, CSKA.

All three are conscripts in the army, and are therefore obliged to obey an officer's orders.

But after a week of negotiations the Russian ice hockey authorities and the Ministry of Defence decided that the players should be freed.

Russian commentators were surprised by the official explanation of the transfer - the Ministry of Defence said it was intended to improve the players' hockey skills.

'Army' hockey

Underlying the dispute is a Russian law, which says that a professional sportsman can also be a serving soldier.

In Soviet times the brightest sportsmen were often drafted to play for the army clubs.
You are in the army now...

National service is compulsory in Russia for youths from the age of 18, but sportsmen often escape it by being posted to special army sports clubs, or by other means.

This allows them to continue playing at a professional level.

The president of the Omsk club, Anatoly Bardin, protested against the transfer, arguing that the players' contracts banned them from playing or even training with any other club.

Nobody dragged the players into the army - they could have entered an institute with a military faculty and got an exemption from the service

CSKA manager

He said the move by the Ministry of Defence was reminiscent of Soviet times, when CSKA, also known as the Red Army club, used its clout to swipe the best players, forcibly drafting them if necessary.

CSKA denied any responsibility for the move.

One of the club's senior managers, Mikhail Mamiashvili, said that "nobody dragged the players into the army."

"They could have entered an institute with a military faculty and got an exemption from the service," he added.

The spokesman of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, Gennadiy Nabatov, said that as time went on "the army realised it was pointless to keep the Omsk players in Moscow".

CSKA formerly dominated the Soviet ice hockey, but with the end of the Soviet Union sportsmen were allowed to play in their home region and the club went into decline.

It now plays in the lower division, while "Avangard" ranks in the top five of the prestigious Russian Superleague.

See also:

16 Jan 01 | Europe
Russian hockey star murdered
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