Images Of Russia … Finally

By John Iaboni, Executive Vice President, Sports Media Canada (at the AIPS Congress in Sochi)

SOCHI, Russia – Way back when it was called the USSR and our side of the world was embroiled in The Cold War against this side of the world, I almost made a trip here. It was in 1972 and there I was, at the age of 21, covering the prelude to the Team Canada-Soviet Union Summit Series.
As the hockey writer at The Toronto Sun, the game plan was for me to report on the Team Canada training camp at Maple Leaf Gardens in August and the first two games of the series at Montreal and Toronto. I did all that and then Eaton Howitt handled Game 3 in Winnipeg. No one at our newspaper was in Vancouver for Game 4 because we didn’t have a Saturday edition.
George Gross, our Sports Editor who drew up the assignments, was earmarked for the games overseas – first the exhibition games in Sweden followed by the four games in Moscow.
After my commitment to the series was over as a full-time student at the U of T and a reporter at The Sun I decided to take some time off before school started and the Maple Leafs training camp opened. So imagine my surprise when I picked up The Sun to see the byline from Moscow being either Doug Creighton, our Publisher, or Jim Brown, our Comptroller. They were there along with fans and guests of The Sun leaving me to wonder what happened to my boss, George.
So I called the newspaper and the guy who answered was The Baron himself. As a defector from Czechoslovakia, George said he’d been tipped off that if he stepped on Soviet soil he’d be arrested immediately. He didn’t want to risk that. So I asked him why he didn’t tell me because I would have gone.
“Too late, kiddo,” he said.
So I missed out on that trip and experience of a lifetime and always regretted it — although I certainly understood and respected George’s decision.
Well, this week I finally landed in Russia and even went through Moscow briefly to connect for the flight to Sochi and the 76th Annual AIPS Congress. This is a far different Russia than I grew up with; it’s friendly and more North Americanized than I envisioned. Heck there’s even an American flag flying outside the luxurious Radisson Blu Hotel where our Congress is taking place. This is definitely not Nikita Kruschev hammering his shoe at the UN or JFK staring the Soviets down over the Cuban missile crisis … it’s not even the hockey war that occurred in 1972.
After all those years of never knowing this place or its people, aside from the many Russians who’ve come to play in the NHL, it’s great to be here and accept their warm welcome.


John Iaboni and Ros Morris

AIPS Secretary General Roslyn Morris shocked me on the morning of Wednesday, April 17 by asking me to assist her as she handled the roll call of nations before the elections. I’ve got to admit, I felt a lot of pressure as I sat at the head table, checking off countries one by one before confirming the list with Elisa Chiapparini of AIPS. She was at a nearby table keeping her own list as she and others handed out the electronic hand control to be used by a delegate from each nation for the vote. Final tally: 103 nations validated to vote.
I was relieved when my total and Elisa’s matched! The voting procedure itself went very smoothly and AIPS was wise to enlighten (and train) the delegates by going through a mock election the day before.