Post by Jason Rogers
You can imagine my surprise when I opened up the Sunday NY Times, and smack on the cover of the business page was the cherub face of the newly elected president of the International Fencing Federation (aka. FIE – Federation Internationale D’Escrime). “Well, hmm…” I thought to myself, “I don’t really see this going anywhere good,” but it wasn’t until I read the words “Alisher B. Usmanov. Debt: $4.8 billion to various western and Russian banks” that my jaw hit the table. Certainly in this economy, everyone is hurting, and most businesses are hemorrhaging money, but it would take the entire GDP of Estonia to get this guy back in the black. Yikes!
Basically, the situation is this: Most of these guys who swooped in the early stages of privatization in Russia are highly leveraged, and so most of their wealth is wrapped up in their companies. Very few have a sizable assets that are liquid with the exception of handful such as, Roman Abramovich, the infamous Chelsea Football Club owner, who sold his company Sibneft Oil and left Russia for the West. And so with the slow down of the economy, these wealth wielding demi-gods are finding it hard to make their monthly payments (it’s a bit tougher than making rent with your dealing with numbers that have 10 more zeros on the end), and many are asking for a moratorium on their payments. They are now in such dire straits that the men pictured above met at the Kremlin in January to propose “merging their assets” and in return “the government would refinance billions in Western bank debt.”
So, what does this mean for us? Truthfully, I have no speculation to offer, but I do know that the international fencing community has an important quadrenium ahead of us. If we are going to make the big push that it will take to get the two extra Olympic team event medals (the International Olympic Committee refused to allow Fencing to have more medals when it added Women’s Sabre to the Olympics, and so two teams must sit out) and to continue to show our relevance in the age of the extreme sports, we need someone with some serious clout to be behind that push. Usmanov is quoted in the article as saying “the crisis determined the situation.” Well, let us hope that it doesn’t determine ours as well.