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Sportscaster's incidental mention of Alexey Navalny becomes World Cup political meme

Meduza
12:47, 19 june 2018

On June 17, the Russian national soccer team’s former head coach, Leonid Slutsky (not to be confused with the State Duma deputy), made headlines in the independent media for being perhaps the first person to mention anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny’s name on Pervyi Kanal network television outside a negative context. During a FIFA World Cup game between Germany and Mexico, Slutsky had some fun with the phrase “high-pressure soccer” (which uses an adjective identical to Navalny’s surname), wondering aloud if Navalny plays soccer. “That would be interesting to see,” Slutsky remarked.

The next day, Slutsky and Viktor Gusev announced a game between Tunisia and England. This time, nobody mentioned Navalny, but it wasn’t long before jokesters on Twitter began supplying their own fictional Slutsky observations, recasting his commentary as biting social criticisms about political prisoners, the pension age, and more. Thus a meme was born.

Gusev: Tunisia is without the ball now.Slutsky: Just like [hunger-striking jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg] Sentsov is without food.
Pyotr Kuznetsov
Gusev: The pass to [Harry] Kane is very late.Slutsky: And now we'll be retiring much later, too.
Gusev: I don't think there was a foul there.Slutsky: Of course — just like there are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
Gusev: Tunisia is making a substitution.Slutsky: And we haven't made any substitutions in 18 years.
Gusev: Watch how masterfully Kane evaded that defender!Slutsky: Almost as well as [former Defense Minister Anatoly] Serdyukov evaded justice!
Gusev: Tunisia's mistakes on defense are really costing the team.Slutsky: [Costing?] Have you seen the gas prices today?
Gusev: The players came to today's game with a fire in their eyes.Slutsky: Like [actionist artist Pyotr] Pavlensky at the Lubyanka [where he famously set fire to the doors of the Federal Security Service].
Gusev: Team England's passing accuracy is up two percent.Slutsky: Like the Value Added Tax [which is being raised by two percent].

Photo on front page: Richard Sellers / EMPICS Sport / Scanpix / LETA