In November 1990, while Red Square in Moscow was turbulent with what seemed like a forthcoming civil war, the Kremlin Cup tournament was held for the ﬁrst time, chaired by Prime Minister Ivan Silaev, and in the presence of other prominent guests from all over the world, including Israel.
Sasson: The Kremlin Cup reception was held in the Kremlin Palace, a new building in the vicinity of the Kremlin, where all congresses, theater shows, big gala events, etc. were held. Among the 400 guests were Ivan Silaev, prime minister of the USSR, and other high level politicians. The Russians organized a wonderful show, which left all foreign sponsors and guests speechless.
But that was not the only amazing thing: At that time, Russia was one of the great supporters and business partners of Arab countries, and the peace process between Israel and the Arab countries had not begun yet. Yet among the 400 guests were also 40-odd Israelis. I still remember my lawyer and close friend, Eli Ben Dor, whispering in my ear how unbelievable it is to see so many Israelis celebrating such an event with the Russians in the Kremlin Palace.
Gollar: At the opening ceremony of the tournament in the great Olympic stadium on 5 November 1990, there were only a few hundred spectators, and rumor had it that a civil war might break out at any time. The ﬁrst days were absolutely empty. I was completely stressed about all the investment going down the drain, but Sasson said don’t worry, the ﬁrst days are always empty.
Sasson: The stadium was empty in the beginning, but the media coverage was superb: I will never forget Ivan Silaev’s boldness and the television’s collaboration, especially Anna Dimitrova, a former player who served as commentator, and other Russian reporters. Television was one of the most important instruments for public relations and news, and the television station allotted a spot for the tournament several times a day. As hard as it is to imagine, we should keep in mind that at that time there was no Internet! Broadcasting news by television was by far more important than other forms of media, so thanks to Anna’s love for tennis and positive reports about the Kremlin Cup event, we became a popular and prestigious tournament with high publicity.
Gollar: In the VIP section, we hosted very high ranking politicians, and slowly but surely the stadium also ﬁlled up as more and more spectators came. One evening, we and our guests were invited to a cultural castle — a castle where cultural events were organized — and they arranged a concert for us with classical music and a lot of food to eat. It turns out that when the authorities wanted, they did have food.
The stores were empty, but apparently they were not the only source of food. We learned it the hard way: Some of our servers in the dining room put food from the VIP meals in their bags, and took it home! About half of the food trays that went out from the kitchen, never reached the VIP dining room. As you can imagine, it almost doubled our expenses on food. Later on I realized that the people were not hungry, they were just used to getting food from their workplace to take home. In government offices, it was eggs and fruit, and in our dining rooms they didn’t get any basic food, so they took home all this luxury food…
Tournament organization is not an easy task: every tournament has about 1000 people working behind the scenes: From security people in the arena, through the cleaning team, stadium ushers to show people to their seats, the media department, ball-boys and girls to pick up the players’ stray balls, staff for players’ lounge, VIP lounge and public restaurant, entertainment for the players and guests, etc. The Eastern Bloc environment and mentality made it even harder. We didn’t employ all of these people directly, but the different teams needed coordination too. The Russian side, for example, took care of transportation, hotel reservations, and all the work inside the stadium, including security. The players were escorted with security to the hotel, and from there to the stadium. They also organized tours for the players and for us. We could see places where simple tourists and Russian civilians were not permitted at the time (now they are), such as the private rooms of the tsar at the Kremlin Palace.
During the ﬁrst Kremlin Cup, I could neither eat nor sleep, and lost a lot of weight. Our good friends and family came, which was good moral support for us, and much needed. My friends and I would sit together in the evening, chatting around, making jokes and drinking champagne. At 10 a.m. Sasson and I would go to the stadium. Every day brought a new set of challenges, and all the people thought a civil war was about to break out. In the end, everything turned out well, but I knew we would lose a lot of money on the ﬁrst year.