Medvedev clashes with Putin... at badminton

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev may be outgunned by Vladimir Putin with his macho judo and chest-baring antics, but on Monday he was shown squaring up against his mentor -- at badminton.

In his video blog, Medvedev, wearing a tight-fitting sports shirt and tracksuit bottoms, earnestly encouraged Russians to play badminton at schools, before exchanging a few shuttlecocks across the court with a celebrity partner.

Oddly enough, the famous opponent was none other than Russia's strongman ruler for the last decade and incumbent prime minister -- Putin.

Medvedev, who stood aside to allow Putin to stand as president in the forthcoming March elections, has kept his enthusiasm for the sport under wraps until now, although he has talked of enjoying yoga.

In the video, a grim-faced Putin is shown lobbing a shuttlecock at Medvedev, both of them wearing dark tracksuits bottoms, all set to a soundtrack of cheesy 1980s style electronic music.

In a phrase likely to be thrown back in his face after he apparently meekly allowed Putin to return to the top job, Medvedev claims that badminton helps with decision-making.

"In life it helps you solve different problems, because someone who plays badminton well takes decisions quickly. That means he has will power, the will power to achieve results."

The video immediately prompted derision from commentators, who mocked the bizarre choice of subject for the video blog, previously used for more weighty policy statements.

"Don't you think that the president of a country should work on more global tasks than deciding the content of school PE lessons?" one commentator, Dmitry Yermolayev, wrote on Medvedev's blog.

"Why badminton and not ballroom dancing?" wrote opposition blogger Alexei Navalny on Twitter. "After all, he's already got a partner."

But the video won praise from the head of the country's badminton association, who thanked the president for popularising the sport.

Medvedev "has given a fantastic boost to developing badminton as a mass sport," Sergei Shakhrai, the president of the national badminton association, told the Echo of Moscow radio station.

"Medvedev knows the taste of badminton," he added.

The first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, famously loved tennis and created a fashion for the sport among toadying officials, while Putin has reinforced his hardman image with a judo black belt and even a judo textbook.

Since announcing he would hand over the Kremlin to Putin next year, Medvedev has repeatedly appeared in public with the prime minister in an apparent bid to give a sense of unity between the leaders to Russians.

The videoblog can be viewed on:

© 2011 AFP

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