Drama is never far behind when the Russian and the USA national hockey teams meet on the ice. The latest match-up at the Sochi Olympics, where US won 3-2 in a series of shootouts, was no different. While Americans celebrated, Russian fans were incensed by what they view as an unfair loss — late in the game the Russians scored a third goal that was nullified by the referees according to IHF rules, because one of the US goal-posts was slightly dislodged. Arguably it was this call that cost the Russians their victory.
The goal's position was so slightly out of kilter that most people watching the game did not notice it. Confusion over the reasons for nullification quickly turned to anger and conspiracy theories, fed by the fact that the referee was an American national. The Twitter account of the liberal cable channel Rain-TV tweeted:
Кстати, судья, не засчитавший третий гол в ворота американцев из-за того, что вратарь-американец сам сдвинул ворота, тоже американец
— Телеканал ДОЖДЬ (@tvrain) February 15, 2014
By the way, the referee who didn't count the third puck in the American goal, because the American goalie moved the goal-post, is also American
The implication here being that while the IOC maintains that judges “don't have nationalities,” the American referee somehow chose to overlook the Russian goal to help “his” team. In a way, the outrage has united Russians from opposite sides of the political spectrum like few other things have in the past. Pro-Kremlin MP Maria Kozhevnikova also tweeted [ru] that the American goalie moved the post himself, while opposition MP Dmitry Gudkov couldn't believe that the referee is American, calling the fact “crazy [ru].” Nationalist publication Sputnik & Pogrom noted that in a way, the game reflects Russia's weakness on the international arena [ru] — first the Russians let Americans judge their game, and then they complain about the results, rather than questioning the entire setup.
Some chose to vent their frustration with outgoing US ambassador Michael McFaul, who was cheering the US team on Twitter. After McFaul tweeted “Victory!”, someone replied
@McFaul американский арбитр смошенничал , когда отменил гол. Это нац. черта такая ?
— Сапёр Водичка (@ivanvitjaz) February 15, 2014
@McFaul the American referee cheated, when he nullified the goal. Is this a national trait ?
To which McFaul responded with an exasperated “Come on man!” McFaul's defensiveness showed when he took seriously an obviously jocular tweet that was parodying the conspiracy theorists:
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) February 15, 2014
Ive seen it all now! RT@vdzyubenko The DC bosses and @McFaul stole our victory ))
Russia is still in the running for hockey gold, although the going will get harder now. And in the end, blaming the referee is a time honored tradition in both countries. Let's hope that Vladimir Putin, a hockey fan, doesn't take this loss as seriously as some memes imagine: