It’s probably fair to say that Robert Dietrich was not a household name in most of Germany. But for many people, sadly his name will remain recognised and associated with a tragedy over which he had no control. He was a young man with it all to play for, to use the cliché.
On September 7 a plane carrying the players and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team, plus eight cabin crew, crashed on take-off just outside of their home city in eastern Russia. They were predominantly young Russians, but also included Czechs, Ukrainians, a Belorussian, a Swede and the single German, Dietrich.
That they were young and successful sportsmen makes little difference, but it does show up the hypocrisies prevalent among those of us who feel that sport is a quantifiable, important, part of life. It obviously isn’t. Just over a month ago 50 people died in another plane crash in the Congo. Nobody from the Sportsdesk wrote about that one.
It is hard, but we do need, somehow, sometimes, to be able to put things into a context, and (as ridiculous as it may be) a lot of people identify with their sports teams more than they do with so called normal people.
Dietrich had been a part of the Straubing Tigers team that had won promotion to the German first division before Don Jackson signed him to Düsseldorf’s DEG Metro Stars. He was in the German national squad that came fourth in the 2011 World Championship. It was the host country’s highest placed finish in many years, and losing to Russia in the semi-final was no disgrace.
There was a minutes silence before the start of the first Eisbären Berlin game nine days after the crash in the opening round of fixtures of the new season. Few (outside of his friends and family) will have felt as desperately sad at Dietrich’s loss as Jackson, who left Düsseldorf to become Berlin’s head coach the year after he had signed him. Dietrich had moved on too, becoming a draft choice in the promised land of professional hockey, the North American NHL, before coming back to Germany – and then on to Russia.
Eisbär Sven Felski had played with Dietrich in the World Cup. Felski was able to squeeze out a couple of thoughts for the tabloid BZ, but was too upset to say much more than sound-bites. This is not a criticism of him.
His teammate Nicholas Angell gave an interview to the paper as well that described his own time playing – and by definition flying across – Russia. He said in the end he could have earned more there than in Berlin, but he didn’t feel comfortable living there, nor did his wife. He talked about his dislike of the internal flights but mentions it more as an afterthought, as opposed to a concrete worry. The piece seemed callous, but maybe something was lost in the translation.
Teams such as the Grande Torino whose plane crashed just as they were almost home to Turin in 1949 will always be invoked at these times. Compared to nowadays, few had the privilege of seeing these teams play, so rare were TV broadcasts, that their on-field feats have become mythologised. This is natural. The Zambia team, though, that died in a crash in 1993 was succeeded by a team that, it seemed, the whole world practically willed on to reach the Africa Cup of Nations final just a year later.
Ice hockey will still be played across the world, and especially still in Yaroslavl. Many of us will not remember the name of Robert Dietrich. But for those who do, and have got to face games, flights and life without their friend deserve a thought from those of us with little really to be sad about.