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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

EDITORIAL: Russia as Carcinogen


Russia as Carcinogen

"It's 2007, and there is no mafia in Russia."

That's what Russia's top-ranked tennis player Nikolay Davydenko (pictured above) recently told an ESPN reporter when he asked whether Davydenko "might have connections to Russian organized crime." He actually said that. We're not making it up. Click through the link and check for yourself, if you don't believe us. They've got him on video, this is a written transcript of a program they've already broadcast.

ESPN has just published and aired the results of a four-month investigation into charges that Davydenko, then #4 in the world, intentionally threw a match at the Orange Prokom Open in Poland in August last year against the lowly world #87 Martin Vassallo Arguello of Argentina. After Davydenko won the first set against Arguello, the betting odds on Arguello winning the match suddenly spiked through the roof as several bets worth nearly a million dollars flooded British gambling parlors, all picking Arguello to prevail, which he promptly then did after Davydenko complained of injury and quit. Ultimately, it turned out more than $7 million had been bet on the obscure match. The manner of the betting was unheard of in tennis, and the result was that the betting parlors canceled all the action on the match.

Since then, Davydenko has refused to turn over to investigators phone records for wife and brother, records which might show they acted as go-betweens between him and the fixers, despite declaring "I am clean" to investigators, and an expert gambler ESPN consulted stated: "I'm certain that from the betting patterns I was privy to, this match was 100 percent fixed." In another jaw-dropping remark, when asked whether he had tanked on purpose Davydenko replied: "I don't know how to throw a match."

He doesn't know how to lose on purpose. There's no such thing as mafia in Russia. Got it?

ESPN reports:

"I do have evidence that I was injured," Davydenko says. "That's why I couldn't finish the match."

The ATP won't comment on Davydenko's medical condition. But it appears, from his record on the court immediately after the Sopot match, that he recovered fairly quickly. The week after retiring against Vassallo Arguello, Davydenko beat two players ranked in the top 30 at the event in Canada, the same event where Leitgeb says Davydenko was diagnosed with a stress fracture.

Two weeks later, Davydenko was healthy enough to make it to the semifinals of the U.S. Open before he lost to Roger Federer.

The gambling expert responded: "I think that's a very lame attempt to create a smoke screen over the truth of the matter that he was never going to win that match."

Regardless of whether, out of blind Russian nationalism, you believe Davydenko's absurd statements or whether, having an IQ above the first grade, you assume he's lying, this situation is Russia personified -- and compelling proof of how necessary it is to focus, as we do, on the sporting world from time to time in order to really understand Russia.

Anyone who's dealt with Russians knows only too well how perfectly their attitudes are reflected in microcosm by Mr. Davydenko. Russians are so isolated from the world, so totally detached from the flow of real information, that they often make statements that seem to come from another planet. It's hard to tell whether they've been suckered by the Kremlin's propaganda or are willing participants in spreading it. Whole generations have been raised to believe that Russians are the only truly clever people on the Earth, that a special set of rules applies to them, and that all Russian failure is due solely to bad luck. They got very used to being mysterious to the world, and hence being able to get away with telling such whoppers, during Soviet times. In many case, though, the sad thing is that they actually believe their own lies. Despite the fall of the Iron Curtain, they haven't realized yet, like the Emperor with his New Clothes, that now they stand naked before the world.
No mafia in Russia? Couldn't figure out how to lose on purpose if he wanted to?

In Russia, you can actually make headway with ridiculous statements like this. Remember when "president" Putin compared himself to Gandhi? Nobody should be surprised. The country has, after all, a long history of killing people who disagree with such utterances -- and of making heroes of out of the killers. But now, Russia is attempting to insinuate itself into the broader world, including the world of professional sports, and carrying with it the carcinogen of rapacious dishonesty and fraud that brought down the USSR. It is almost as if it wanted to infect the world with this toxin, like a trodden on snake lashing out before its demise to take down its tormentor as well.

If Russia is prepared to get this medieval in the world of sports, do you dare to imagine what sort of poisonous exploits it may be up to within the cozy confines of the G-8 organization, or what it might do with membership in the WTO?

You don't have to use your imagination. We report below on how Russia is making a national hero out of a convicted murderer. Shutting down foreign universities for daring to teach the truth. Becoming a "superpower" in the fine art of filling your e-mail box with SPAM messages. And ignoring the national AIDS crisis to the extent that private business has to try to do something about it just to preserve their own workforces. All the while, not a word of protest is raised and no opposition candidate is allowed to run against the power in the Kremlin.

It's barbarism, pure and simple, and it's spreading beyond Russia's borders just like it did in Soviet times. When will the world realize that the time is now to combat this scourge that rises before us like the plague?

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