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26 Jun, 2009 12:45

“Russia to provide 3500 top athletes in ten years”

Russia’s Ministry of Sport is to release a draft strategy of how it will go about developing sport over the next ten years.

The head of the ministry, Vitaly Mutko, told RT Russia will need at least 3500 athletes in coming years for Olympic events alone.

RT: Hello, Mr. Mutko. Thank you for being with us today. My first question is about the Year of the Youth. What has already been achieved and what results are expected in the future? What I mean is that you are already a father of three while I am just waiting for my first child to be born. So, what legacy will the current Year of the Youth leave to our children?

V.M.: I think that the first important result is that the Year of the Youth has been announced. It’s extremely important because the state has many priorities, especially in this difficult time, and it’s crucial that the Year of the Youth has been selected to be one of those priorities. It’s an important political decision. Secondly, the problems of young people are being addressed at the highest governmental level. Suffice to say that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been appointed to head the organizing committee. He has already chaired two meetings of the committee. So, I would say that these are the two major achievements so far. Of course, we have an extensive and serious program aimed at carrying out the Year of the Youth. Priority will be given to supporting talented and resourceful youngsters. The task of the Year of the Youth is to open the potential of our young people, give them an opportunity to distinguish themselves and realize their ambitions in our society. So, this will be the focus of our activities.

An Innovation Convention that kicked off the Year of the Youth last December featured many achievements and innovations by young inventors. Other measures include the creation of councils of young scientists in every region and territory of the Russian Federation; a youth research and technology exhibition opened in one of the best pavilions of the All-Russian Exhibition Centre on June 24, featuring the best inventions of our talented young scientists. Other stimulus steps include scholarships and a newly-established presidential grant. We have about 6,000 different scholarships for young and talented scientists. In short, it’s a wide range of long-term work designed to help talented youths. It will start in the Year of the Youth and will continue. It’s not just about finding a talented young scientist, an investor or a would-be entrepreneur. Our task is to give them full support in fulfilling their own plans and ambitions. In other words, to help them bring their concepts and ideas to life. And this is most important!

As you may know, the Youth Communist League, known as Komsomol, ceased to exist in 1991. Komsomol used to unite all young people in one political and public organization. It offered a lot of interesting and creative projects to youngsters that had an impact on their hearts and minds. Today, we are not planning to create a single youth organization in Russia. We simply want to support all the ventures and undertakings of young people. Naturally, we should pass serious laws that would allow the financing of youth movements that unite young people – be it a volunteer movement, the club of merry and resourceful young people (known as KVN), a movement of student construction teams or a scout movement, which is currently gaining momentum. This is the second important task.

The third task is to define youth policy. I’ll put it this way. What I mean is the creation of a single system for implementing youth policy: the creation of supervision bodies and the introduction of a new position – an expert on youth affairs. What I’ve just said should be the final result of the Year of the Youth. I would like to mention once again that the Year of the Youth program includes many events. But the most important thing today is to create a clear-cut system or a code of rules for a single youth policy.

RT: As for systemic approaches, the Soviet Union was famous for its systemic approach to everything, including sport. Today, we are returning to something very similar, on the one hand, but which, on the other hand, is very different from what we used to have in the past. Are the activities of your ministry in any way different today compared to the late 1980s?

V.M.: Of course, a lot of things have changed since that time. Today, we live in the 21st century. So we should act in compliance with international laws, we need to be civilized. Major changes have occurred today, predominantly in sport management. There used to be federations in the past, but over the years international federations, the International Olympic Committee (the IOC) have come a long way, they’ve been granted the status of independent organizations. Naturally, they demand subsidiarity and they wouldn’t like the state to meddle in their affairs. But the most crucial difference lies in the fact that unlike in Soviet days, when a strict administrative and command system prevailed in sport management, today our work is based on democratic principles, cooperation and contractual relations, although that makes work more difficult. So, in this respect, a lot of things have changed.

As far as systemic approaches are concerned, including methods of training, centralized training, the training of Russian national teams, we’ve lost much of the Soviet experience. But our colleagues in foreign countries, such as China and Great Britain – our main sport rivals in international competitions – have, on the contrary, inherited our experience in many disciplines. Just look, thousands of our coaches are working in international sports. They take athletes in China, the United States and other countries to victory in many kinds of sport. Therefore, we should certainly be guided by the already endorsed strategy of developing physical training and sport in Russia and complete the creation of a clear-cut sport management system by mid-2010 at least. This is most important. We should also create a model for managing sports with a high achievement and a system of training in popular sports. But we also cannot ignore contemporary realities. Today we have private businesses, a market economy and, naturally, we should somehow change our ways and methods. We should streamline the legislative basis, include new requirements in collective work treaties and establish sufficiency standards. And to achieve all that, we’ll need a strong legal basis in addition to the administrative and political decision. Therefore, in this respect, a great deal of work is still lying ahead to implement the strategy for the development of physical training and sport.

RT: We’ve just talked about the private sponsors. How involved have they been? What part of the development program do they sponsor? Do they determine the investment areas or do you tell them what your needs are?

V.M.: Actually, the issues of private and state partnership, of the investment in physical training and sport, and of providing paid services in this area are rather underdeveloped in our country. We are at the beginning of this journey. I was reporting to the government about it yesterday. Today the income from physical training and sport services provided by private businesses makes about 0.17% or even less. Whereas this amount reaches up to 2 or 3% in developed countries, we are just starting now. Today the state still remains the key investor. People prefer receiving an income and return immediately. Today the sport industry is a long-term project for investment. First of all it means investing in a healthy lifestyle and in living standards, which is the priority of the state today. It has to be the key investor in it.

RT: Since the state is the key investor, our Olympic committee includes 45 federations, as I understand.

V.M.: There are 168 types of sport registered in our country, which have been developed by 138 federations. 45 of them are related to Olympic sports, and others are non-Olympic.

RT: As I understand the Russian Olympic Committee is directly responsible to the ministry for its achievements or for its failure to achieve results. How effective is this scheme of cooperation, and is there a feeling of partnership between the ministry and the federations?

V.M.: I’d say it’s beginning to form. Unfortunately, over recent years we have lost this feeling of partnership. It’s been the opposite for the last three or four years; mutual condemnations and arguments for the areas of responsibility. Even your very question voices it. Actually, this is our joint responsibility. The social organization, the Olympics Committee, the Paralympics Committee, the Deaf Olympic Committee, the Special Olympics, the All-Russian Olympics Federation are all partners of the state in the development of these types of sports. The federation tackles at least three issues: organization of sport competition; formation of the national team and representation and participation in international competitions; and the development and implementation of one sport or another. We are the federation partners in all these three issues. The Olympics Committee has been promoting the Olympics in Russia. It provides representation at the Olympics. It is in charge of the national team. But today’s practice means it does not deal with the preparation work of the country’s national team. Today the state has assumed this obligation together with the federations. Anyway, we should all be partners with a clear distinction of roles. I was reporting about the strategy to the Russian government yesterday, and I mentioned that the model of managing Russian sport, including elite sport, is next to perfect. But we have to finalize the fine tuning of this work, including our legislation and agreements.

RT: The draft strategy of physical training and sport development up to 2020… is it a sort of a road map for the popularization of sport, or is it a document that would reflect the realistic schedule and provide the federations with certain obligations or authority?

V.M.: First of all, this is a political and social document of the Government of the Russian Federation. Today, this is a fundamental document which determines the priorities of the state first of all. It has its implementation plan which determines who does what. In general, the document determines the country’s strategy and sets the priorities in the development of sport and physical training. The strategy has set five priorities: first of all, development of popular sports and physical training, and the involvement of as many people as possible in the sport and the physical training practice. Our task today is to persuade people and, according to the Chairman of the Government yesterday, to make sport fashionable among the population of our country. People have to be convinced that fitness and active sport today can contribute to 99% of the success in their lives and make them competitive. I’d rather not elaborate on this issue as you know it has a broad meaning. The second priority today is the system of the professional training of sportsmen. We are a serious developed country and we have to participate in all the 138 types of sport and in all competitions. Therefore we have to train our sportsmen for elite sport. This leads us to the next priority, which is elite sport. The state has finally politically stated it in a document. Elite sport is our priority as a measurement of the social and economic development of our country, as an element of promoting a healthy lifestyle and as an element of uniting our nation around our victories at the Olympics and improving the image of our state. These are the three key strategic priorities. There are also the issues of promotion, education and the training of staff, and the issue of improving the financial and technical base.

RT: And the scientific base as well.

V.M.: The entire strategy is based on innovational development and the use of new scientific developments.

RT: What are your expectations for Vancouver? How important is the final result? Or would it be more helpful as a learning experience to help us run our Games?

V.M.: You know, Russia, as the legal successor of the Soviet Union, is a country of huge Olympic traditions. I believe no other country in the world has had so many Olympic champions and had so many victories, especially in winter sports. In this sense we are not going there to learn. Our task is to win. It’s a different issue that during recent years the competition has improved, or rather increased in winter sports in particular. We may have weakened our attention to some kinds of sport. We have become non-competitive in some sports. According to the World championship 2008 we are ninth in the world in Winter Olympic sports. But it doesn’t mean anything. We’ll be encouraging our team to achieve only the best results.

Russia should always fight for first place. We should set the top tasks for ourselves. I remember, when we were developing the football strategy for the country, I said back in 2005 that we would be fighting for the World championship prize and so on, even high level politicians were giggling. But I have to say that there will not be a result without ambitious plans and serious tasks. It would be wrong to make learning and practicing our key task there. Our team will be preparing and fighting for the highest places. 220 athletes in 14 different sports: in every kind of sport Russia has talented, skilled and competitive sportsmen. Now, a lot will depend on how they prepare, especially in the final stage. Today we are really counting on the coaches and on these sportsmen. I can say for the state, all the organizational and technical issues and the financial support have been resolved. The Olympic Fund with President Medvedev in charge has been helping us. We have the full support of the country’s government and the head of state. All the conditions have been met for the Olympians. Of course, it’s still sport, and sport means you can lose. But the most important thing is to lose in an honest and uncompromising way, if we do lose, that is – but our goals are still high.