Friday, 16 May 2008

Zenit and Russian revival

As a minority of Rangers fans brought their club into disrepute in Manchester on Wednesday night, Russia celebrated UEFA Cup victory by a team who are being touted as a symbol of the country’s revival.

Throughout Russia supporters greeted Zenit St Petersburg’s 2-0 victory at the City of Manchester Stadium as if it were a national triumph. And it does not take a great leap of imagination to present it as such. The club’s most high profile supporter is new president Dmitry Medvedev, who now shares power in tandem with the office's previous incumbent, and fellow St Petersburger, Vladimir Putin.

The wealth and influence new Russia has acquired derives from energy resources and in particular natural gas supplies. Zenit St Petersburg’s wealth derives from Gazprom, its main sponsor and the country’s largest gas company. Of course Gazprom is also inextricably linked with the Kremlin and Russia’s political establishment. The company plan to build a controversial new headquarters in St Petersburg.

One of the first sources to congratulate Zenit on their victory was the Russian Orthodox Church, a pillar of Russian identity, drawing explicit parallels between the club’s progress and that of Russia itself, "Russia is regaining ... energy, hope for a better future and for its own rightful place in the world". The speaker of Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, Sergei Mironov (another influential St Petersburger) described the win as a victory for all Russian sports.

The Moscow Times of course reports other quintessentially Russian instances of excess which accompanied Zenit’s trophy win.

“One fan in Belgorod, after heavy toasting of the victory with friends, decided to take a break from the revelry to set fire to the door of his ex-wife's apartment.”

Despite Russian football’s reputation for hooliganism, the most violent incident in St Petersburg itself ensued when teenagers used a flagpole outside the Japanese consulate to swing upon and inadvertently bent it out of place! Over a thousand miles away in Perm there were 13 arrests, as post match celebrations took the form of an impromptu drunken march.

Whether it is fair to impute representation of Russian national revival to Zenit or not, the club’s success does substantively spring from the new wealth and confidence which has returned to the country. If Dick Advocaat can keep his side together, they may yet become the first Russian club to make a sustained challenge for the Champions League. Their UEFA Cup win meanwhile joins Russia’s successful bid to hold the Winter Olympics at Sochi, as sporting symbols of the country’s return to the world stage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Probably not the best club to use as a symbol of a country's (somewhat questionable?) revival. Dick Advocaat recently expressed his frustration at being unable to sign black players due to pressures from the club's fans and from within the club too.
Zenit deserved their win overall, they were impressive throughout the competition and Rangers did well to keep them at bay for 72 minutes. Would have preferred to have seen a Gers victory, not least for Steven Davis but I believe he will have many more chances to add to his medal collection.