KHL Monthly Interviews, second issue
Question and Answer with Paul Bartlett
Paul Bartlett is a very popular and active journeyman and writer who currently lives in Kazakhstan, but since 1992 he has lived also in Greece, Czech Republic, Russia, Spain and Uzbekistan. He collaborates with a number of online newspapers, including Central Asia Online, where he publishes articles about Barys Astana and Kazakhstani ice hockey. Let's read this interesting view of hockey from a bit different point of view.
Hello Paul. Can you tell us a bit where were your last three or four journeys?
My last trip was to Astana, Kazkahstanís futuristic capital, I was there on business and unfortunately it was while Barys were having a two-week recess in November. In the summer I was in Turkey and Greece on holiday, and earlier in the year I went to England to see family and friends, as that is where I am from originally.
I believe that you are more known as journeyman than as hockey expert, so, when and where your passion for hockey was born?
I first got into hockey in the Czech Republic where I lived for a year in the early 90s. I was working in Ostrava in the east of the country, and a crowd of us used to go along to watch Vitkovice at the weekends. There wasnít a lot going on in Ostrava, and hockey provided an outlet for people in the city, there was a lot of unemployment and uncertainty at the time, but the fans were really passionate about their team, especially when Sparta visited from Prague. Then I moved to Moscow and started watching CSKA, so thatís basically how I got interested in the game.
Now you are living in Kazakhstan. How do the people live hockey in the cities you lived in?
Iím living in Almaty which is not really a hotbed of hockey. The local team, Yenbek are rated pretty lowly in Kazakhstan and people here are not that interested. The real hockey hotbeds are in the north and east of the country, in industrial cities with big Russian populations such as Oskemen and Karaganda. Recently, Barys in Astana has had a lot of money pumped into it as part of the governmentís strategy to promote the country through sport, as with the Astana cycling team. The sport is popular - itís difficult to get tickets for Barysí home games as people are really interested in the KHL, especially with all the big name Russian teams coming. But Oskemen, or Ust Kamenogorsk as it was formerly known, is where the real hockey nuts live. There was a lot of reaction in the press when Barys joined the KHL rather than Kazzinc - Torpedo from Oskemen.
And how would you rate the presence of the KHL in Kazakhstan sports and non-sports media?
The KHL features widely in both the sports and non-sports media. Kazakhstan has two newspapers devoted to sport Ė Sport & KS and Prosport Kazakhstan Ė and they both feature reports on all the Barys games. Highlights of home games are shown on national TV and the mainstream press carry articles on Barys, as does the opposition press. Itís a pretty high-profile sport in Kazakhstan as it is one of the few where it competes regularly on the international stage.
What do you think about the new KHL, from a media point of view?
From the media point of view, I feel that the KHL has raised the profile of hockey in Russia and surrounding countries. I think the league has the potential, eventually, to rival the NHL and when more teams from other countries get involved and more high-profile sponsors are attracted the game will develop in this part of the world. Kazakhstan is about to set up a dedicated sports channel and Iím sure that KHL games and those involving teams like Kazzinc-Torpedo and Kazakhmys Satpaev will also feature on this channel.
Where do you think that hockey has the best standard of quality, both on and off the ice?
Obviously, the standard of the hockey played in North America is in a different league to that played in the KHL at the moment, as is the media attention and sponsorship. On the international stage, the Europeans seem to be in the ascendancy at the moment, and Russia as the current world champions shows that things are on the up there.
And how would you compare hockey attention in the different countries you lived in?
In terms of playing hockey, I would have to say Moscow is the place where Iíve seen more people playing on ice rinks in parks and in courtyards and attending games. Itís also popular in the Czech Republic, but not on the same scale as in Russia I would say. In Kazakhstan the ice rinks are full of people skating rather than playing hockey, especially around Almaty. It might be more popular in the north of the country in cities such as Karaganda and Pavlodar, which have large numbers of ethnic Russians.
Which country do you believe has the biggest margins of growth? And why?
Over the last few years there has been a lot of money sloshing about in Russia and Kazakhstan and sport has been attracting a fair share of this money. I think that in both Russia and Kazakhstan hockey will grow because there a number of people with money to invest in the sport. Kazakhstan will host the 2011 Asian Winter Games and a number of new facilities are being constructed and reconstructed for this. This includes a new home for hockey in the capital Astana.
What was the arena in which you felt the best environment?
As I said before, the atmosphere in Ostrava when Vitkovice played Sparta Prague was pretty electric. There is a fierce rivalry between the two teams with the team from a depressed mining and steel area taking on the team from the capital and the Vitkovice fans were unsparing in their .
Are you planning to move out of Kazakhstan?
Iím planning on sticking around for a while yet. There are still a lot of things I want to do here. Itís a huge country and it takes time to get around and see it all. But one thing might make me reconsider my plans Ė the outdoor ice rink at Medey is being renovated for the games in 2011 and if it remains closed this winter and next then I may have to think seriously about moving on as the winter is no fun without skating!
Readers, stay tuned for the January issue that will feature a more traditional interview as eurohockey.net will sit with Swede journalist Nils-Petter Dufva.
Story added on 12th December 2008 at 14:00 GMT
Story submitted by: Alessandro Seren Rosso.