Putin's Ally Seeing `Red Machine' Reborn Wants 50 Hockey Arenas

  • Rotenberg says Russia suffers from `severe shortage' of rinks
  • Putin backs plan at meeting of his presidential sports council

A billionaire ally of President Vladimir Putin said Russia needs at least 50 new ice hockey arenas in an effort to enlist companies to rebuild the sport back to its Soviet-era glory.

Russia is suffering from a “severe shortage” of covered ice rinks, Arkady Rotenberg, who’s the head of Russia’s hockey federation, said at a meeting of the presidential sports council in Kazan. Putin backed the plan to build more arenas, saying Canada has more than five times as many covered rinks with synthetic ice.

“Considering the costs and the scale of what’s being proposed, we suggest thinking about a range of benefits, including those related to taxes, for companies investing funds in building and reconstruction of venues for youth, mass and professional sports,” Rotenberg said. The national team is becoming another “Red Machine,” he said, referring to the Soviet hockey powerhouse that dominated the sport for decades before the country’s collapse in 1991.

Rotenberg, Putin’s longtime friend and target of U.S. and European Union sanctions over Ukraine, has led the push to promote the sport in Russia. It’s a passion shared by the president, who’s often shown on television playing pickup hockey. Companies linked to Rotenberg have previously benefited from state contracts and infrastructure projects. Protests by truckers last year focused on a toll system run by a company part-owned by his son, Igor.

Rotenberg also said in Kazan that recent doping scandals involving Russian athletes exposed “blind spots” in the system of managing sports in the nation. He called for streamlining and centralizing sports medicine in Russia to avoid similar allegations in the future.

“It’s impossible when a doctor and a coach each act according to their own plan,” he said.

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