Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t the only Eastern European authoritarian leader who plays hockey. So does Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. But unlike Putin, who once gave the entire Russian national hockey team luxury vehicles for winning the world championships, Lukashenko has no love for Team Belarus.
During a meeting this week that he specifically held to discuss the state of hockey in the country, the 62-year-old leader called the team “absolutely spineless” for failing to qualify for the playoff round at the IIHF World Championships earlier this month.
“Even if you lose, then play with soul and the people will forgive you,” Lukashenko said in comments posted Thursday on the presidential website, according to the Associated Press. “But when you go out there you’ve lost the game before it even begins and your legs are shaking.”
Belarus won just two of its seven games at the world championships, where Russia placed third behind winner Canada and second-place Sweden.
This is the second big disappointment in the hockey-loving former Soviet country, after the team also lost an Olympics qualifying tournament last year to Slovenia, eliminating Belarus from the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“Instead of being proud for the colors of our flag, people just feel ashamed,” Lukashenko said at the meeting, per his website. “They even started to send letters to me. And I agree with them. There is no willpower, team play, and individual mastery.”
Lukashenko also went in on the country’s coaches, calling their work “unsatisfactory.”
To remedy this situation, Lukashenko suggested lowering professional hockey salaries and implementing a reward system for performance.
“We need results,” he said, specifically noting he’d like to see a turnaround by 2021, when the country will host the world championships.
“Please think what present you will make for Belarusian people in 2021,” he said during the meeting, referring to the national team.
Team Belarus is ranked 10th in the world after dropping one spot since 2016. Canada is the top-ranked team in the world, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation, and Russia is second.