I’ve just made a whistle-stop trip to Russia to celebrate the birthday of a very dear friend of mine.
Slava Fetisov needs no introduction to Russians, or to anyone who follows international ice hockey. But for those who don’t know him, or haven’t read about our collaborations over the years to protect the polar regions, here’s a transcript of the short speech I gave at his birthday gathering. I was privileged to be able to announce a well-deserved distinction at the end of it:
“It’s a great honour and a thrill to be here in Moscow to celebrate Slava’s 60th birthday.
As some of you may know I am an endurance swimmer and the UN Patron of the Oceans. I swim in the freezing waters of the Arctic and the Antarctic to draw people’s attention to what is happening in these vital ecosystems.
Three years ago I came to Russia to urge this nation to help protect the waters around Antarctica. The first person I called upon was Slava Fetisov.
Slava and I come from very different backgrounds. He grew up in the Soviet Union. I grew up in Great Britain and South Africa. Three countries with very different views of the world.
We had little in common. Except one thing: ice! He led the greatest ice hockey team in history. And I swim in icy waters.
Slava showed me that we could rise above any differences. He showed me that together we could build a better future through the fellowship that comes from our common interests – namely icy sports and protecting the environment.Pioneering Spirit
The world is divided between pioneers and followers. The minute I met him, I realised that Slava is a pioneer. To have the courage to stand up and be the first voice is always hard.
Ladies and gentlemen, you often hear it said that sport builds peace. Let’s be clear, sport does not build peace. Anyone involved in international politics knows this.
What sport does build is an opportunity to interact with people from different nations, from different cultures, and with different views. Sport builds friendships. And most importantly, sport builds bridges.
And this has been the story of Slava’s life – building bridges.
I do not know anyone (especially in these difficult times) who is loved so dearly in so many different countries.
There will always be legends in sport. But there are very few people who are able to transcend sport, to become voices for humanity. It’s a small club.
Let me end off by saying this: all our futures depend on our ability to work together to protect the ice in the Polar Regions.
So, on the occasion of his 60th birthday, it gives me great pleasure, on behalf of UN Environment, to invite Slava Fetisov to become the first UN Environment Patron for Polar Regions.”Congratulations my friend. It couldn’t have happened to a better, or more deserving, person.
Pics via Andrey Bundin