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A Russian ice-hockey star has been forcibly drafted to the army in an apparent attempt to prevent him transferring to a team based in America.
Ivan Fedotov, who was named the best goalkeeper of the KHL league at the end of last season and won silver for Russia at the Beijing Olympics, was detained in St Petersburg on Friday in an elaborate operation that involved plain clothes security agents posted outside his home and the arena where he was training.
The 25-year-old old player said at the end of the season in April he would be moving to the United States in summer to play for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers as his contract with CSKA, an ice-hockey team affiliated with the Russian Defence Ministry, ran out.
News website Fontanka quoted security sources saying that prosecutors in St Petersburg launched proceedings against the hockey star for draft dodging as his deferral that he received while he was with CSK ran out.
Prosecutors have not confirmed or denied the reports.
The Olympic medalist was detained on Friday as he left the ice arena where he was doing a shoot for a TV channel.
Anna Andronova, the channel’s reporter who walked out of the building with Mr Fedotov, told Match TV there were about ten people waiting outside:
“The first thing that caught my eye was two people with balaclavas and camouflage. The rest of them were plainclothes.”
About ten men reportedly surrounded Mr Fedotov, put him in an unmarked van and whisked him away.
Alexander Ponomarev, the hockey star’s lawyer, said over the weekend his client had been drafted illegally.
“Ivan has not been summoned to the draft office or dodged draft,” he told Sports.ru.
“There are no reasons to draft him.”
In Russia, men aged 18 to 27 can be drafted into the army for one year unless they have a deferral, typically linked to their place of study or work.
Mr Fedotov, who won silver with the Russian national team at this year’s Beijing Olympics, reportedly felt unwell following his detention and was taken to a military hospital where he disappeared from on Sunday.
Russian sports daily Sport Express on Monday posted photos of Mr Fedotov dressed in a military T-shirt, saying he had been taken to the Russian Navy’s training in Severodvinsk above the Arctic Circle.
Mr Fedotov’s plight caused a shockwave in the Russian sports community
“Security men with no insignia snatch a person in broad daylight and take him somewhere: This is not a military draft but a simple abduction,” Dmitry Fyodorov, a sports commentator, said on a daily talk show on Match TV on Monday.
Few players, however, have dared to speak out publicly on his behalf.
When asked if he wanted to make a comment about Mr Fedotov, NHL star Alexander Ovechkin, one of Russia’s best-known hockey players, told reporters over the weekend: “No. Why?”
Mr Fedotov is expected to spend three months in military training in Severodvinsk before he would get shipped to a permanent base.
Several Russian media outlets named Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago above the Arctic circle known as a nuclear testing site, as the likeliest destination.
Russian professional athletes have been free to play wherever they chose since the fall of the Soviet Union, and Mr Fedotov’s ordeal brought back the memories of the late Soviet Union when athletes including hockey stars had to defect from their teams during international competitions abroad.