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Pavel Kolobkov: 'I’m still good for Soviet-era physical fitness tests'

August 28, 8:00 UTC+3

Russian Sports Minister in a TASS special project TOP OFFICIALS

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© Valery Sharifulin/TASS

On Pyeongchang Olympics, chances to win, McLaren, neutral flag, WADA and RUSADA

 

- This summer’s weather and sports achievements provided few reasons for joy. What should we expect of the coming winter, which is almost round the corner? Will Russia go to the Winter Olympics in South Korea?

- Firstly, I would disagree with you that our athletes’ successes were few lately. Swimmers and synchronous divers made an excellent performance at the World Aquatics Championships. It was a long time ago that our team performed so well. The track-and-field athletes competed quite decently despite the well-known problems. The guys were under great psychological pressures. Yet they managed to cope with them to win six medals, including Mariya Lasitskene’s gold.

Russia held the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup at a high level to have proved that preparations for the 2018 World Football Cup were going on as they should and would be completed on time. Next year we will be expecting guests from around the world in the eleven host cities and not only there.

There is no reason to think that Russian athletes may stay overboard. It never occurs to me they may be absent from this major sporting event

As for the Pyeongchang Olympics, our athletes are well into the training season. Selection for the national team and the journey to the Olympics are head. There is no reason to think that Russian athletes may stay overboard. It never occurs to me they may be absent from this major sporting event.

- It is far more important to be sure thoughts like that never visit the minds of other key decision-makers. IOC President Thomas Bach, who is always reserved in his comments, all of a sudden said last June that the International Olympic Committee might take sanctions against our country for violations committed in Sochi. A final verdict is expected in October.

- The IOC president’s quote was taken from his interview to The New York Times. As for the attitude of the Western press to everything related with Russia, it is well-known to us. Apparently, certain forces are keen to keep the theme of sanctions in the mass media’s focus. And it does not matter whether the sanctions involve politics, the economy or sports.

The situation is not an easy one, I am not denying that, but I am unprepared to discuss something that still does not exist. If some restrictive measures against us follow, then we’ll talk. It is to be hoped that the people empowered to make this or that decision will manage to avoid getting partial, that they will be guided by common sense and rely on the hard facts, and not succumb to emotion. I reckon our athletes will have to meet some special selection requirements. Whatever the case, we will do our utmost to ensure the Russian team should go to South Korea in full.

The Olympic athletes are steadily pushing ahead with their preparations. Last season the team had an infusion of young blood. Some very strong and promising athletes joined in. The group of experienced veterans, too, is in good shape. The team has a great potential. It will be hard for us to contest first place in the overall team standing, but there are good chances of seeking a position in the top three.

We have our own estimates regarding all Olympic events and the reasons why we may count on this or that potential award, but I prefer not to discuss that in public, because I know for myself how unpredictable sports competitions can be.

As far as individual sports are concerned, we expect good results in short track and in speed skating. For Viktor Ahn it will be a dramatic psychological moment. Russia’s Korean will come back to his country of birth to try to win awards for his new home country. The term “naturalization” does not look very appropriate in relation to him.

We may count on taking high places in figure skating, freestyle, snowboarding, biathlon, and skiing. Traditionally we have faith in our ice hockey squad, although any of the six national teams of approximately equal strength may hope to win. Of course, a great deal will depend on whether professionals from the United States and Canada will participate, but in any case the ice hockey tournament will be a real jewel in the Olympic crown. Just as it has always been.

- Are we interested in having players from the NHL?

- Honestly? I’d say this is not a problem for us to worry about. It’s up to the IOC, the NHL bosses and the International Ice Hockey Federation to address this issue. The way I see it, only the strongest should go to South Korea.

- Alexander Ovechkin has promised that he will play for Russia at the Games regardless of the outcome of negotiations with the hockey bosses.

- I think we should wait. Alexander is a true patriot. He is always ready to stand by his country, but let us not forget that Ovechkin is a professional player who has a contract with his club. This implies certain obligations to his employers. Violations may entail a fine and disqualification. I don’t think that any side needs extra tensions. There still is enough time to settle disputes without aggravations or conflicts. It’s no use trying to anticipate events.

I’m acquainted with Ovechkin. I have deep respect for him as a personality. He has achieved a lot and will surely achieve a whole lot more. Above all, politics should not be mixed up with sports.

- Have any of Russia’s Sochi Olympics medalists been stripped of their awards?

- On what grounds, may I ask? For this there must be facts and documental proof, positive doping tests or trustworthy testimonies by witnesses. Media fakes and other speculations cannot be taken for solid arguments. Tongues may keep wagging nonstop. Prove what you say!

- Have you ever come across doping abuse incidents during your sports career?

- In fencing such incidents are rather an exception. On one occasion several foreign athletes were caught using outlawed weight loss drugs, but eventually it turned out that they’d got into hot water unintentionally, due to their own light-mindedness and lack of discipline and self-organization. In our sport anabolic drugs and other steroids give no advantage. There is not the slightest reason to put one’s health and career at risk using them. But doping is a real plague for cyclic sports. In track and field athletics, in cycling and in swimming endurance and physical strength are of the essence. In fencing quite different qualities are of the greatest value. So doping officers seldom tormented us.

Of course, doping abuse is to be fought against. The problem is great and serious. And it is not purely Russian, contrary to what some have been trying to prove, but a world one. You know, sometimes it seems to me we’ve developed a twisted mentality. We spend so much time and effort on endless debates over doping, or, say, on gossiping about some fans’ outrageous behavior at sports stadiums and outside them, that sports and athletes proper fade into the background. Scandals, investigations and prosecution draw far greater interest than sports records and achievements. But it should not be this way. This distortion must be corrected.

Of course, doping abuse is to be fought against. The problem is great and serious. And it is not purely Russian, contrary to what some have been trying to prove, but a world one

At the track-and-field athletics championships in London Mariya Lasitskene, Sergey Shubenkov, Darya Klishina and sixteen other athletes had to perform under a neutral flag. The IAAF Congress prolonged the temporary suspension of the Russian Federation once again. I hope that a decision to restore membership will follow when the IAAF Council meets in session in November. Our country has been doing a great deal to eliminate the exposed flaws. The Investigative Committee goes ahead with its inquiries. About 80 athletes have been suspended. Some coaches have been subjected to lifetime disqualification. The national anti-doping agency is being reformed fundamentally. We are not trying to play down or hush up the problem, but let us move on. It would be very wrong to expel Russian sports as such. To treat us as an outcast. Honestly, I sometimes find it hard to understand and accept the attitude of the very same IAAF and its president Sebastian Coe. A special road map for the All-Russia Athletic Federation was drafted. A great amount of work has been handled. All top ARAF officials have been replaced. Why don’t you make a step forward, too? Or are we doomed to bear an unwashable stain of disgrace forever? We strongly disagree with this type of treatment.

- Do you remain a critic of the neutral flag?

- I certainly do. Our guys were prohibited from wearing sports suits of Russia’s national colors and using Russia’s national anthem as a ringtone on their mobiles. Women athletes were not allowed to paint nails the colors of the national flag. There was something very humiliating and casuistic about all that, but we had no other option left. We had to obey to let the athletes compete and prevent the loss of another season. We will go on supporting our athletes. This goes without saying. The future of Russia’s track-and-field athletics will get clearer in September, after the WADA’s commission pays a monitoring visit to Moscow. The IAAF says the All-Russia Athletic Federation will be restored to its rights when the Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA resumes its activity. We are told the world does not trust the tests made at our laboratory.

Surprisingly, international law does not apply to the world of sports to the full extent. Each federation lives its own life. It is free to adopt its own laws and to be guided by them. The IAAF, the International Olympic Committee and the Paralympic Committee have their own codes. The latter’s stance looks inhuman to me. How can one punish people with limited physical abilities, who go to the gym day in day out to struggle with their handicaps and illnesses? Moreover, sport for them is the sole available means of displaying their potential and making money. I can find no plausible explanation for this decision by sports functionaries, who at the stroke of a pen stripped all Russian parathletes of the chance to compete in Rio de Janeiro and now, possibly, in Pyeongchang. We will not leave this as it is. We will go on fighting. For the 2018 Games as well. Most requirements that were mentioned as preconditions for restoring the Russian Paralympic Committee’s Membership have been met. Our Western counterparts recognize this.

I can find no plausible explanation for this decision by sports functionaries, who at the stroke of a pen stripped all Russian parathletes of the chance to compete in Rio de Janeiro and now, possibly, in Pyeongchang. We will not leave this as it is

It is pretty clear to me that the road of confrontation leads nowhere.

- They are waiting for us to officially recognize the McLaren Report.

- We’ve said more than once that we do not deny there were problems in the past. Let me say once again that all technical issues mentioned in the WADA road map have been eliminated or are being eliminated. For instance, there was a demand for letting doping control officers visit ‘closed cities.’ It is true that several years ago foreigners were not allowed to go there. Now this issue has been removed from the agenda. All controversial nuances have been settled.

Whether the RUSADA will be accredited again will be decided at the WADA Congress in November. I see no obstructions to restoring the Russian anti-doping agency’s license and its compliance status. As a matter of fact, a new structure has been established. The list of founders has changed, regulatory documents have been adopted and qualified and competent specialists employed.

For now the situation looks like this: formally the RUSADA does not comply with the WADA code, for which reason certain sanctions can be used against any competitions held in the territory of our country. This looks strange to me. If there are certain complaints about the RUSADA, what is the reason for harming all athletes and calling in question the reputation of the countries that finance various tournaments in Russia? We have 160 sports. Theoretically sanctions can be applied against any of them. Be it badminton or rhythmic gymnastics.

- Does that mean that the ‘Sword of McLaren’ is hanging over the 2018 World Football Cup?

Item two of Article 23 of the WADA Code contains a recommendation against letting a country whose anti-doping organization has been found to be in breach of the WADA Code host new sports competitions. It is for this reason that several international contests that were to be held Russia have been canceled over the past two years. But the question of the 2018 World Football Cup’s host country was decided many years ago. Law does not work backward, even if it is WADA law. Theoretically one can imagine anything. I do not rule out that more attacks against us as the hosts of the World Cup are due, but hardly anything will come of it. The country is getting ready. Stadiums, airports and hotels are being built, tickets are being sold and teams are making reservations for training camps… The level of proposed sanctions is to be scrutinized for the scale of problems they might entail. The more so, since there are no reasons for sanctions at all.

I would not overdramatize the situation.

- Do you already know what will happen to the stadiums after the World Cup?

- We are working on a special program called Heritage. In it we will describe in detail how each of the sports stadiums and facilities being built will be used. After all, all of them began to be constructed not just for the first three group round matches. We are keen to take into account all nuances, from the economic aspect to the social function. Stadiums should not be allowed to stay idle without spectators, with the operation and maintenance costs putting a heavy extra burden on the local or federal budgets. Tens of millions and even hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. Building expensive modern sports complexes and then spending money on their maintenance without earning anything would be extreme wastefulness. The stadiums offer a colossal opportunity for the promotion of mass and professional sports in the regions, and it would be silly not to make use of it. This is the local authorities’ realm of responsibility.

We will lend a helping hand, of course, too.

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