Russia: Retired Tennis Star Marat Safin to Run for Parliament

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.

Russian tennis phenomenon, Marat Safin, has announced that he will run for the Russian State Duma in the December 4 elections. Born in Moscow in 1980, Mr. Safin began his professional tennis career in 1997. In 2000 he became the number 1 ranked player in the world when he defeated Pete Sampras in order to win the US Open. He won the Australian Open in 2005 and helped lead the Russian team to Davis Cup victories in 2002 and 2006.

Certainly, Mr. Safin is a talented athlete. However, his public image, as illustrated by citizen media outlets, has until now not been focused on public service.

Russian Politics for Dummies Blog announced Mr. Safin's campaign in a post on October 28:

Safin, the 2000 US Open winner and 2005 Australian Open champion, said he was serious about his political ambitions.

“I am running for Federal Parliament in Russia,” Safin told the ATP Champions Tour website.

“The elections are on December 4th so I will find out soon. It’s a new challenge. I think I am an intelligent guy and I have a lot to bring and a lot of ideas about things and what to do. I am very committed to it.”

Safin added: “I could be the best looking guy in the Duma, but that’s only because all the other guys are over 60.”

Marat Safin at the XV International ATP tennis tournament St. Petersburg Open 2009. Photo by Mike Kireev, copyright © Demotix (27/10/2009).

Marat Safin at the XV International ATP tennis tournament St. Petersburg Open 2009. Photo by Mike Kireev, copyright © Demotix (27/10/2009).

Russian blogger, Gleb Mekhed, contrasted his admiration [ru] for Mr. Safin's athletic ability to his distaste for Mr. Safin's antics in an August 2011 post:

[…] I must say that I play tennis a bit myself, and for a long time Marat was a man I admired. His graceful game sometimes reminded me of a tiger. However, I was always annoyed by his antics with the smashing of rackets, etc. Honestly I do not know what he needs politics for. Maybe just because it's trendy. […]

Miriam Elder, GlobalPost blog's senior correspondent in Moscow, placed Mr. Safin's State Duma run into political and geographical context in her July post:

What does somebody like Marat Safin do after retiring from tennis? There are plenty of options: he could model, he could act, he could marry me, I mean, somebody.

But this is Russia and if you want to stay on top here, best to link up with United Russia. And guess what – that’s what Safin is doing.

According to the United Russia website, Safin is taking part in the election primaries currently being held in consort with the People’s Front (I wrote about them this weekend). The idea is to formulate United Russia’s candidate list for the December elections. Safin is standing for the Nizhny Novgorod region, which is weird, considering he was born in Moscow, to ethnic Tatar parents, and Nizhny has nothing to do with either one or the other. […]

Mr. Safin's own 2006 blog – which is hosted in Russian here and translated into English on the ATP World Tour site – offers insight into his life as a tennis player. In one blog entry, he discussed his relationship with his parents:

[…] Last night my father called me at around 1am and asked me to use one of my cars to take my grandfather to a medical check this morning. Since I am a good son, I told him to come to the apartment in the morning and pick up the keys. When he arrived, I gave him some laundry as a present for my mum…

For some reason, after a certain age our lovable parents enjoy doing things for their kids, like laundry, looking after your flat when you are not around. They are just happy to do anything, anytime for their kids. But when you are young, you have to do all these things, laundry, doing the dishes, cleaning the apartment and all the c—p you hate doing, when the only thing you want to do is go out, hang out with your friends and do whatever is on your mind. Every age has its good parts and bad parts, it is important that you enjoy both of them. […]

And here are Mr. Safin's thoughts about what it is like to participate in a tennis tournament:

[…] The day was long, the ladies took over on court and they took forever to decide who wanted to win and lose. Apparently, nobody wanted to lose. So I was waiting, eating and drinking coffee. I went to sleep and almost fell from the massage table a couple of times because when you sleep your body sometimes shakes – so I almost fell down. I slept and then drank another couple of coffees. I ate again and drank again. Basically, my stomach was like an aquarium. A mixture of pasta, soup, Russian blinis, jam, coffee, tea, peach juice so you can imagine how I was going to look after a few hours.

They then called us. Everyone is happy two Russian girls and two guys are in the final. It was a full stadium today, pretty amazing as the stadium is pretty big. We are only using one quarter of it for the Center Court. More or less, today was around 10,000 people. It was not 100% full. […]

It is my first final in Moscow, so I am happy. A final nobody can complain about. No one will make me feel guilty of going away to sleep and not doing my job properly. […]

After today’s match, I did press and signed around 5,000 million autographs so I could perfect my signature. A lot of kids coming, running up with balls. At least kids here they know who I am. For example at some of the tournaments like in Cincinnati or Montreal, they come up and don’t even know who you are. They then ask, “Excuse me. Who are you?” I always use the name Roger Federer. For sure they know Roger. Then they ask, “Yeah, sure, who are you?” So I am still using his name. […]

People from around the world who had been accustomed to seeing such a flamboyant persona from Mr. Safin reacted on Twitter to the news of his political ambitions. Temidayo Oluyede from Nigeria wrote:

murray-bruce running for office…marat safin sef running for office… breed of politians

New Yorker Daniel Kaplan, a tennis reporter for SportsBusiness Journal, wrote:

Marat Safin running for Parliament! He wasn't exactly a statesman as a player! […]

Russian Politics for Dummies blog reminded readers that Mr. Safin is not the first Russian tennis player to have political ambitions:

The 31-year-old Safin is the second Russian tennis star to target a seat in the Duma following 2007 US Open women’s semi-finalist Anna Chakvetadze announcement in September that she was to stand for the Right Cause party.

The 24-year-old, formerly ranked in the top five in the world, has not played since Wimbledon in June because of poor health.

Chakvetadze said she wanted to “try something new” and focus on women’s rights and children’s sports.

“I joined the Right Cause Party because it’s a young party,” she said.

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.

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