Dear Swedish friends! Greetings to your bandy family from Russia. To be honest, I don’t know what an average Swedish fan knows about Russian bandy. Especially about things going on throughout the season, between the World Championships.
But I’ll try to put you Bandyfeber readers into the environment of our ”hockey” (hockey with ball or Russian hockey, as we call it here) and will cover briefly some latest news.
First of all, bandy in Russia is a sport of Siberian cities and some cities on the Volga river and in the North. In recent years our sport is in real crisis. Many regions don’t have enough money to sponsor clubs, they disappear or relegated into lower divisions (like Zorkij, for example).
Secondly, bandy life is unfolding amid permanent scandals involving the Federation, referees etc.
A Federation led by Boris Skrynnik (head of the FIB as well) organizes the championship and accumulates money from clubs. Fee is rising, nobody knows where this money goes. That’s why Skrynnik is considered by many fans here to be the architect of this bandy collapse in Russia: average attendance is now about 2 000 spectators (5 500 in 2000), central TV-channels don’t show this sport. But Skrynnik has good relations with regional governments which determine team’s budgets.
Moreover, many fans say that he can assure necessary results for some teams with the help of referees (case of Baikal-Energy in 2015-16 when this Irkutsk team was in the final thanks to a very controversial victory over SKA-Neftyanik in the semi-finals).
What is bandy for Russian people? Most people don’t know anything about this sport, for those who know it’s a particular way of spending time: winter, freeze, alcohol. For many people this sport is associated with alcohol, so they come to the stadium with bottles because it’s not forbidden (at least a few years ago) to drink. Many matches take place in -20, -30 degrees temperatures so vodka helps to be in shape.
Besides, in Russia there are only four ice palaces for bandy, absence of covered stadiums is also a great problem for the development of bandy. However, most fans in Russia believe that outdoor bandy is better.
Latest events. Maybe some of you heard that Sergej Lomanov Sr was disqualified for 2,5 years for criticism of the federation. He said (for example, in interviews that I took) that Skrynnik doesn’t develop Russian bandy, that there is no financial control over expenditures, that clubs are not represented in the federation. In Russian bandy now a real information war is under way, and nobody knows who will win. Some clubs (Jenisej, Vodnik) are said to be against president, some support him (Baikal, Kuzbass). Most clubs are just watching. Many people are tired of Skrynnik, and I should say many people are surprised that Swedes don’t do anything to change him in the FIB.
This championship is played in a new formula, very strange and criticized. 12 teams are divided into two divisions “West” and “East”, then there will be the second stage with 8 teams, but points will not be counted (why?). Then 4 teams will advance to the play-offs. Another problem is the level of competition, scores like 14-3 is a common thing. I can say that champions this season will be SKA-Neftyanik with 99% likelihood (you can check in March).
But to be honest, in my story I tried to tell you about global things, you can see the table on the Internet sites. Almost all Russian Superleague matches are shown free of charge (!) via YouTube, so you can see Russian hockey with your own eyes, you just should know the time-table and find Cyrillic keyboard.
Why Russia is still winning World Championships? Logical question, after all these words about a crisis. Well, first of all, clubs still have good schools and they are able to find talents (from my point of view, Russian players are individually stronger, Swedes are stronger as a team, but maybe it’s an illusion). Secondly, there is the heritage of old times (Lomanov, Ivanushkin and many others are not young players, they learned bandy in the 90s).