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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Dear friends,
It is my great pleasure to wish you a Happy New Year and congratulate you on receiving these well-deserved awards. The New Year will come in just a few days and I hope that this meeting and ceremony at the Kremlin would add to the enjoyment of the holiday season for you and all your loved ones. And considering that all of you are highly distinguished and well-known people, I hope that this will add some positive emotions for everyone in our country.
Russia’s ice hockey elite has gathered here, in St Catherine Hall. Many of you were members of the Russian national team, which has won many world championships, Olympic Games and European championships. At the end of your career as athletes you began new lives: some of you took up coaching, others became involved in public work or entered state service, and that is excellent.
There is another pleasant occasion for us to celebrate: the 65th anniversary of Russian hockey. On December 22, 1946, the first matches of the USSR ice hockey championships were held. I must admit, on my way to work today, I watched some recordings of the matches shown on the Vesti-24 news. I don’t remember ever seeing them before, even though I am not that young anymore, but they are completely different if you compare them with modern hockey. At the same time, the game is the same. So, without any doubt, a unique training system for players and coaches was built in the past in our country, and in this case I am referring both to the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.
“Our players have always been distinguished by their excellent team spirit and extraordinary skills, and this has become our calling card. That's why we all loved Soviet hockey, and I hope we will continue to love Russian hockey for the same reasons.”
The Soviet and Russian national teams became world champions 25 times and won the Olympic Games eight times. That is an extraordinary result, an absolutely outstanding result, which is why hockey has become our national sport and won so many loyal fans and why, as I believe – and you may or may not agree with me since I view it from the amateur’s perspective – our hockey has continued to develop and make progress, because everything changes, the requirements, maybe even the canons and criteria, but development cannot be stopped.
Our players have always been distinguished by their excellent team spirit and extraordinary skills, and this has become our calling card. That's why we all loved Soviet hockey, and I hope we will continue to love Russian hockey for the same reasons.
The Orders and the Presidential appreciation letters to be presented today are symbolic of your brilliant sports achievements. At the same time, perhaps this shows the main purpose of state decorations: in addition to rewarding an outstanding professional, it is also a personal success story and an example for so many people. Each of you has lead a life that can certainly serve as an example for a lot of young people who love sports, particularly hockey, and have great respect for you.
We have many sports events ahead, including the Sochi Winter Olympics. I hope all of them will be a success.
Once again I sincerely congratulate all of you. I wish you prosperity, happiness and success, and propose that we start the awards ceremony.
Everyone in our country knows that ice hockey is a special kind of sport. I even have the experience of my own observations. I have colleagues with whom it is not always easy to discuss various issues. To be frank, sometimes we disagree, have arguments. But suddenly there is a hockey match, and everything turns into a normal conversation. <…> This shows us that even when there are different opinions, disagreement, conflicting views on international processes or domestic affairs, we can always resort to hockey because it is a subject that unites people and consolidates our country, because we have millions of fans and it is a deeply loved national sport.
Even at international venues it can be an excellent opportunity to mitigate conflicts or to reach international agreements on social, humanitarian or sports issues. Therefore, to be honest, even in my official activities hockey has helped me tackle various state matters, and that is only possible because you have established the fantastic traditions of Soviet and Russian ice hockey, lifted it to such heights that we have nowhere to retreat and losing is not an option. There is only one way to go and that is forward, towards new victories.
To all of you and your loved ones, your families and everyone who loves and appreciates you, I would like to wish a Happy New Year, the best of health and strong nerves, because we will need them next year both in our work and to support our ice hockey team.
Happy New Year!