Based in the city of Kazan in Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan, AK Bars will start the new Kontinetal Hockey League (KHL) season without the support of its ‘Bars Angels’ dancing group.
Explaining the decision to Russian channel Match TV, the team’s press service said they held pre-season events without the cheerleading outfit, also citing the departure of the lead girl to Moscow as another factor and the possibility to free up space in the stands.
However, coming after Russian MMA icon Khabib Nurmagomedov – a devout Muslim – called scantily-clad ring girls ‘the most unnecessary people’ in his sport, the news had aroused suspicion that AK Bars was taking its cue from the UFC superstar.
Tatarstan is home to one of Russia’s most important Muslim communities, with more Muslims than Orthodox Christians.
The club denied that Dagestani fighter Khabib’s comments were anything to do with its move to ditch their cheerleaders, stating it had “made the decision earlier” and was taking a more friendly-oriented direction – but admitting the girls’ disappointment at being dumped.
“When we told them about the decision, of course, the girls were upset. But we’ll meet with them again and present them with some valuable gifts,” an official was quoted as saying.
But those words haven’t quelled the criticism from some quarters, including from upset former Bars Angels leader Rigina Barieva – who departed for Moscow before the step was taken.
According to Barieva, team officials were worried about jealous wives angry at their husbands being more interested in attractive girls waving pom-poms than the pucks flying around on the ice.
“The arguments were that supposedly other people’s wives don’t react very well to beautiful girls. Therefore, the club decided to abandon the services of the support group altogether,” Barieva said of the new dancer-free set-up.
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