Belarus's President Lukashenko Dominates Own International Hockey Cup

Lukashenko Putin hockey
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), his Belarussian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko (C) and retired Russian ice hockey player Vyacheslav Fetisov take part in a friendly ice hockey match in the Bolshoi Ice Palace near Sochi January 4, 2014. Lukashenko dominates the leaderboard in his own 2017 hockey tournament. Alexei Nikolskiy/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Reuters

Although he's nearing 24 years in charge of Belarus, strongman President Alexander Lukashenko showed his countrymen he has not lost step when it comes to hockey.

The former collective farm chairman is topping the scoreboard in his own international hockey tournament, only a day before its grand finale, and his team is tipped to lift the presidential cup for the record 10th time.

The tournament, called the International Amateur Christmas Hockey Tournament for The Belarusian Republic's Presidential Prize, is an annual championship that runs during the first week of January, in the lead up to Orthodox Christmas (January 7). It is the brainchild of Lukashenko's—an avid fan of winter sports—as well as an annual showcase of his physical prowess.

Although the tournament frequently tries to attract retired hockey professionals and international semi-professional players to square off against Lukashenko's Belarus team, the president is always the focus of attention.

On Thursday night his feats on the pitch saw him score four times in a drubbing for tournament minnows Balkan, who feature amateur players from various countries on the Balkan peninsula, according to the tournament's official site. He became not only his team's top scorer, but the tournament's, bringing his total to five goals and two assists.

Lukashenko's side need at least a draw against Switzerland on Friday night to qualify for the final round of four on Saturday and look likely to do go all the way if history is to repeats itself.

For 12 years, Lukashenko's side have won the tournament the most times (9) with Russia being the only other side to lift the trophy at all, albeit a mere three times.

The president makes no secret that there is a political message behind the championship's design.

"The main goal of such amateur matches is, above all, to strengthen friendly relations between the countries competing," Lukashenko said at the tournament's opening. "As you know, sport is the best form of people's diplomacy."

The tournament, in a similar way that of his Russian friend and counterpart Vladimir Putin, whose own amateur hockey league frequently sees him outscore former NHL stars and outpace oligarchs, is not without a domestic political message.

Last year one online sports journalist issued mild criticism about the timeliness of Lukashenko's work on the ice. Shortly after, the country's main TV channel asked the man for an interview, prodding him on the ice to watch how confidently he managed to stand, asking him about his lack of experience in playing hockey, as well as firing the latest hockey jargon at him to test his theoretical knowledge. The uncomfortable segment saw the journalist concede that he would be no match for Lukashenko on the ice and was forced to stand in front of the president himself, who handed him a signed hockey stick.

The state reporters concluded that it is "never too late to start playing hockey," implying the journalist should take it up soon.