Sport has become fashionable in Russia, but has it improved?
A couple of days ago Russia President Vladimir Putin met with children from Latvia. When the Russian president was asked about the order of his day, Vladimir Putin answered that he usually begins his day with 1.5 hour physical exercises. The Latvian children were surprised to know that Putin devoted so much time to physical exercises. It is not ruled out that majority of Russian children will not respond to the answer at all. may be children from Moscow, who are considered to have better conditions than children in the rest of the country, would say that probably there are still some sports grounds that are not turned into car parking sites in the Moscow district where the president lives.

It is said that sport will be turned into fashion in Russia. Just compare, 40 per cent of the US population go in for sport while the same showing makes up only 10 per cent in Russia. However, this 10 per cent make up 15 million people. Does anyone of your acquaintances attend sport societies and may come the official statistics? May be, one among ten or even one hundred people do attend sport society.

This year, financing appropriated for junior competitions and tournaments is much bigger than over the 12 past years. The Moscow - Utah International Junior Tournament was rather pompous. Three Russian cities were the hosts of the finals of the First Sports and Athletics Meeting of School Pupils. In general, not less than 20 children tournaments in 30 kinds of sport have been held on the federal level in Russia.

Unfortunately, these events will not have any effect for at least two reasons. As for the Moscow - Utah event, Russia was represented by professionals and those who are to become professionals in the nearest future. The American side was represented by amateurs. 16-18-year-old gymnasts from Utah did not even dream about the complicated elements performed by 12-14-year-old Russian girls. What is more, American girls were not even ashamed of their 10-15 kilograms of extra weight. Americans came to Russia to communicate by means of sport, but Russians as usual wanted to win at any price. And Russia did win. Are we happy about it? Why did the Russian gymnastics team was beaten then by the US team at the world championship that took place in 1.5 months after the Moscow - Utah event?

This is the issue of the cynicism propagated by the sport policy of the incumbent presidential administration. Huge gaps in the mass physical culture are shielded by loud statements about success of young athletes from youth sport schools. The disgraceful losses of professional athletes are muffled by statements about Russian athletes being subject to discrimination. 

Even though many people criticize Boris Yeltsin now, but we had some definite sport policy under him. We sold out Russian hockey, spread mafia in football and developed tennis. No attention was paid to other issues.

When Vladimir Putin came to power, it was believed that his famous kinds of sport would receive grants; they would become fashionable and yield much triumph to Russia on the international sport scene. But nothing of this kind has happened. The financial situation of the Judo Federation (judo is Putin's favorite sport) has not changed. Russia still performs poorer than the rest of Europe in skiing. And this is at the time when everybody knows that Russia's president goes in for skiing and that the RF Olympic Committee is headed by a talented ski coach, as it is declared by propaganda sources.

Within the past 50 years sport has always been part of the politics. But today, sport in Russia has become a hostage to politics. Remember Greek-Roman wrestling champion Alexander Karelin who decided to enter the big politics and after that lost the Olympic Games. 

We can compare. The Soviet system of sport financing was sufficient to gain victories at the international eventsalthough Soviet champions were paid peanuts. It is generally known that the Soviet coaching school was the best in the world and even still remains really very strong in some fields. These are figure skating, rhythmic and sports gymnastics, fencing, shooting, wrestling, track and field athletics, boxing, hockey, skiing and biathlon. If Russian athletes are better financed they do achieve wonderful results in such sports events as tennis which is rather exotic for Russia. 

Does the president want to make sport fashionable? Why have there been no TV transmission of the Russian hockey championships over the past few years? And this is at the time when this kind of sport attracts up to 20-30 thousand spectators even in severe frosts in the Russian cities of Irkutsk, Omsk, Krasnoyarsk and other places. Why there are no TV transmissions of world championships where Russian athletes perform wonderfully? This is strange but the Russian audience had no chance to watch the Davis Cup final match where the Russian men's team became the world champion. The RTR-Sport TV channel, which is "semi-state-run", performs rather poorly. Even though people hear about the triumph of Russian athletes at gymnastics, fencing and basketball world championships, what they see are just records of the events at best. Instead, the TV audience is offered detailed 5-hour reports about a second-rate tennis tournament in Shanghai or cycle racing events that has been broadcast in Europe the day before yesterday. There are just few people in Russia who are actually interested in cycle races.

The Russian community grew extremely indignant at the purchase of the Chelsea football club by Russian businessman Roman Abramovich. The people were surprised not with the fact where the man found so much money but they were rather perplexed why he didn't invest in the Russian football. These people do believe that the only reason why Russian football clubs do not win because they need more money. They think that extra $200 million would help Russian football players be more successful.

But in fact the key reason of the situation is not money. Russia's leading football and hockey players are paid not less than $20 thousand a month; the sums even may reach $70 thousand a month. As for hockey players, these are the highest wages in Europe that can be compared with the IHL wages. Russian football players are paid a bit less than those playing in France's National Championship (the France football team is the actual Europe champion and ex-champion of the world.

Against this background, other athletes with rare exceptions seem to be absolutely poor. The situation is also that poor with respect to coachers for juniors and coachers in those kinds of sport where Russian athletes really successful during Olympic Games. The situation will be surely improved in the year when summer Olympic Games are to take place.

Some finance will be appropriated for shooters, fencers and heavy athletics sportsmen to further say that the government does care about future champions at least once in four years. The Russian heavy athletics has been practically ruined, but the school still stays on. Even though weight lifters are not paid enough they still continue their training and sometimes win at large-scale events.

The situation may some day change for winter sports as well. It is said that construction of a new skating stadium is to be started soon before the presidential elections. The construction is sure to produce a big show. This may take the construction workers much time to complete the construction. But this large-scale project will help hold successful presidential elections at least. Construction of a modern skating rink gives some hope that soon Russian skaters will coach in Russia, not the US. Unfortunately, the sport fashion may go up in smoke as the idea of united Russia of the poor and oligarchs.

Sergey Tolmachev

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Author`s name Margarita Kicherova