‘ It’s just the sport – this is how it brings us together’: coach Malychenkov

‘ It’s just the sport – this is how it brings us together’: coach Malychenkov

20 Jul 2022

Outstanding sports journalist Morris Dalla Costa once commented about the many complements received from readers with ‘yes, but it’s only sports’.

Yet sports is many things positive, like entertainment, fitness with good health implications and a huge industry that has other benefits often overlooked. It teaches us the meaning of skills and talent.

A war between two countries was once settled over a soccer match. It was called football diplomacy. Soccer and other sports teach us fairness with guidelines and rules that participants must follow. The rules of soccer on the field of play are universal.

Jim Kernaghan, for many years the soccer writer for the Toronto Star and columnist for the London Free Press once said that in his experience soccer people are very loyal. They support each other.

Which brings us to an article in The Athletic, written by Sean Fitz-Gerald. The Athletic is a prestigious subscription-based sports website owned by the New York Times that provides sports coverage in 47 North American cities and elsewhere.

Fitz-Gerald sets the scene for his story in the stands at Centennial Stadium in Etobicoke at Toronto’s west end. Igor Demitchev has a full view of the field below where his team, Continentals FC, is playing York Region Shooters. Continentals FC is the team’s new name, having been known prior to this 2022 campaign as FC Vorkuta, named after a community in northern Russia where Demitchev was born and raised, writes Fitz-Gerald.

Andrei Malychenkov is the team’s Russian-born coach and there are Russian players in the team. But most are from Ukraine on a visa and work permit which allows them to play professional soccer in Canada for income.

Continentals FC won the game by a 3-2 score and that pleases Demitchev in an environment and mood where the camaraderie is obvious at games’ end despite the heavy burden in the minds of just about  everybody on the winning team and on its bench.

Demitchev, a practicing lawyer in Toronto, is frank with his comments when interviewed by Fitz-Gerald. “They call it ‘special military operation’ in Russia and if you say otherwise, you may get charged and be jailed for it, which is very strange, but that’s how it is over there. I’m here, in Canada, and let’s put fish on the plate: This is a war,” he said.

“And unfortunately, we’re sitting here in Canada, and people are dying over there. I don’t know how I can be more supportive than I can be other than a little bit of sponsoring, donating money,” Demitchev added.

FC Vorkuta was successful, winning championships, but world events took the focus off the field this year, writes The Athletic reporter. Players have been scrambling for updates from family in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February.

Demitchev said the team’s starting goalkeeper is from Mariupol, a Ukrainian port besieged for nearly three months and ultimately occupied by Russian forces, and went 40 days without any contact with his family. He said the player recently returned from Europe, where relatives were able to escape through humanitarian corridors.

“Pretty much every single guy here has two, three, four — sometimes more than that — people brought in,” said Demitchev. “Obviously, their mindset is not with soccer. It’s hard. It’s not going to be easy.”

The team, he said, has not been able to practise regularly.

“Do I think about the Cup as of right now? No,” said Demitchev. “Do I think about soccer? No. My job is to try to hold all these people together; help them as much as I can to live like human beings. Bring their families over here and help them as much as I can, especially when somebody’s asking for it,” continues Fitz-Gerald in his article.

Andrei Malychenkov, the team’s Russian-born coach, said he has been in Canada for two decades.

“If you talk about the war, nobody would support the war,” he said. “It’s very sad. It’s very painful.”

He said the team tries not to discuss the day’s news in the dressing room.

“When they come to the field, there’s no politics, it’s just the sport,” said Malychenkov. “This is how it brings us together. It’s a good thing.”

 

 

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