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Alex Ovechkin has been surrounded by elite athletes all of his life. His father, Mikhail, signed a contract to play professional soccer but an injury ended his career when he was 17, according to the Washington Post. Ovechkin’s mother, Tatyana, reached even greater athletic heights, winning two Olympic gold medals in basketball with the Soviet Union. Ovechkin knows what it takes to succeed as a high-level athlete, and perhaps more importantly, he’s seen firsthand the lack of support women athletes sometimes receive. It’s part of the reason that Ovechkin, the Capitals superstar and Stanley Cup champion, and his wife, Nastasiya, decided to join the Washington Spirit as investors.
“My mom was a professional athlete and [it] was always hard to get attention from that,” Ovechkin told reporters Monday in a video conference call. “Just support women athletes, I think it’s very important, not only for me, I think it’s [for] everybody, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Ovechkin, 35, becomes the latest high-profile investor in an NWSL team. The Spirit’s investors list of over 50 individuals includes two former first daughters, Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush Hager, Olympic champions Dominique Dawes and Briana Scurry, and a host of other industry leaders.
Spirit majority owner and managing partner Steve Baldwin said Monday that the team is not done adding investors.
“We think we have an exclusive group,” he said. “We know that there will be others that are interested in being part of it, and we’ll evaluate those on a case-by-case basis.”
Baldwin previously told City Paper that each investor will be required to participate in at least one of four areas: strategy and development, content, media, communications, and technology, community service, or player experience.
Elite or former pro athletes like Ovechkin, Dawes, and Scurry can act as mentors to Spirit players. Ovechkin has never attended a Spirit match due to scheduling conflicts, but said he plans to visit the team at practice post-pandemic and go to games.
“I hope I’m going to help this community to grow,” he said. “When COVID is done, I hope I can come to practice, show my skill to the team, support the team, obviously, because I love soccer. I have lots of friends who play soccer, and I think it’s a pretty cool thing.”
The partnership between the Spirit and Ovechkin came together when one of the team’s investors, Kyle Lierman, put Baldwin in touch with Ovechkin’s agent, David Abrutyn. “We had a lot of interactions and kind of talked about what we were trying to do with the club, both on the field and in the community and they thought it was a great fit and that’s kind of how it came about on our side,” Baldwin said of his conversations with Ovechkin and his team.
Ovechkin chose to support the Spirit due to his connection to the area.
“David reached out to me and my wife: You have a chance to be on this board. We said yes, we happy and we excited,” Ovechkin said. “It’s very important for us to support women’s sports and especially here in D.C., because obviously I spend lots of time here.”
Among the challenges that women’s sports face in Russia, Ovechkin said, is a lack of support in the stands and a lack of financial resources. He said he hopes to help the Spirit grow and did not rule out potentially investing in Russian teams in the future.
But for now, his attention is in D.C., with the Capitals and officially as of this month, the Washington Spirit. The NWSL regular season begins on May 15; the Spirit will play its first match the following day against the Orlando Pride.
“I’m overly impressed by Alex and his accomplished career,” Spirit midfielder Tori Huster said during the conference call. “They have multiple trophies with the Capitals. And I think, if anything, that’s what we would like to have here at the Spirit.”
She then turned her answer into a question for the Spirit’s newest investor: “Alex, how do we do that?”
Photo by All-Pro Reels, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.