Alexander Zhukov: “Naturalization of foreign athletes is not our way”

– You are Chair of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games bid Evaluation Commission. Many cities backed out of bidding for these Games. What is the reason? Maybe it’s the crisis of the Olympic movement?

– There is no crisis. On the contrary, the authority of the Olympic Games in the world is growing. The reasons for refusals were different. Somewhere economic situation did not allow to bid for the games, somewhere people believed that the high cost of the organization of competitions were inappropriate at this time. After all,  it hasn’t been yet settled with Oslo. In autumn in Norway  additional hearings on the issue will be held, after which the Norwegians will take a final decision as to the participation in the bidding process. However, I think that the struggle for the 2024 Summer Games will be very serious, with lots of candidates taking part in it.

– St. Petersburg also bids for the 2024 or 2028 Olympic Games. Is this project   still in force?

– It has not yet been discussed at the official level . There is still time, but we must remember that we still have to organize  a lot of different major competitions, including the World Cup.

– Will Russia to strive to host the Youth Olympic Games?

– I do not exclude that it will be possible in the future.

– What Russian cities could potentially host these competitions?

– We have many worthy places – Kazan, Sochi, Moscow, Saint Petersburg. There are  lots of options. A distinctive feature of this tournament is that it is mainly held at the existing sports facilities avoiding new expensive construction.

– Is the ROC watching how the Sochi Olympic facilities are used now?

– The state and the sports authorities are making great efforts to saturate Sochi arenas with high-level competitions. This is not an  easy task, especially in Imeretink  where a lot of stadiums are concentrated in one place. But some of them are redeveloped. For example,  the skating  Adler Arena has been transformed into a tennis center, and   children’s sports center has been created on the other arenas. There are plans to build a hockey and a football teams based in Sochi. A stage of the Formula 1 will take place in the Olympic Park in autumn. It is not easy to solve all of these problems, but we are doing everything possible to attract  athletes, spectators and tourists to the Olympic facilities.

THE SITUATION IN RACEWALKING IS NOT OK

– In recent years, there has been a lot of doping incidents in  Russian sport. Some believe that in this situation the ROC could have protected the rights of its athletes more actively…

– What do you mean by rights? Athletes have no right to take doping. An athlete and his coach are responsible for what enters athlete’s body – either accidentally or intentionally.

– Are you maintaining contact with the Russian Athletics Federation as to the investigation of doping incidents in Saransk race walking school?

– Yes, we spoke with the head of the Russian Athletics Federation Valentin Balakhnichev. I am watching the situation and waiting for the results of the investigation. If the suspicions are confirmed, we will have to take tough measures.

– Many of the Russian walkers  caught  using performance enhancing drugs are very young athletes. Maybe we should strengthen anti-doping work amongst junior athletes?

– Agreed. We need to develop this idea from a young age, informing the young athletes of the trouble that they will face in case of  illegal substance  usage.

PARALLEL OFFSET IS A CONTROVERSIAL TOPIC

– The Sochi Olympic Games provoked a debate in our sport  on  attracting foreign coaches…

– The federations are trying to invite coaches from abroad only if there are no highly skilled professionals of our own. This situation usually occurs in those sports where we don’t have great traditions. But, if we have our good coaches, I do not really understand, why we should spend money on foreigners.

– And what is your position on the naturalization of athletes?

– At the Sochi Olympic Games, we had two champions from other countries. But as for Vic Wild, the reason for naturalization was his life situation, as far as I know. We did not have a purpose to include this particular athlete into our team, he just married a Russian woman, and therefore we had a chance to claim him for our team. As for Viktor Ahn, at home he was actually discarded and couldn’t qualify for the Korean team. We wanted this experienced athlete to pass on his experience and skills to our skaters, but, moreover, he managed to recover and won in Sochi. However, these are  special cases. We don’t follow any special policy on naturalization issue.

– And what is your stand on the perspective of attracting Kenyan long- and middle-distance runners to the Russian team, who are making their debut at the national championships in Kazan in these days?

– I have not watched these specific athletes, but I can say that this is a well-established practice worldwide.  Take a look at the long-distance runners performing for the European teams — they are mostly athletes from Africa. The world is open now. Lots of our athletes go abroad and even win gold medals for other countries’ teams. This is normal. However, in general, I believe that naturalization – is not our way.

– Has the process of integration of the Crimean sport into Russian been completed? And how soon will the Crimean athletes perform  for the Russian team?

– The process is completed. The Olympic Committee of Crimea has participated in the ROC conference. Many Russian federations have already taken Crimeans in their teams. We will certainly include the Crimean athletes in the composition of our teams according to their desire and sports results. Anyone who wants to perform for Russia, will certainly get that opportunity.

– What is your opinion on the fact that some Russian regions  are actively luring promising athletes from each other?

– This is also a common practice, which can be caused by sports reasons. Often athletes themselves are looking for an opportunity to train with a renowned coach who works in another region.  This is a common practice abroad as well.

– And what is your position on the parallel offset that is thriving in our sport?

– This is a difficult question. There are opinions   for and against. Obviously, it is necessary to encourage athletes growers, but at the same time we should be fair to the region, which supports the athlete at the moment.

– Is there a chance that the parallel offset will ever be canceled?

– It’s hard to say. This is a controversial issue, and different federations have different approaches to resolving it.

THERE WILL NOT BE ANY REVOLUTIONS IN THE OLYMPIC PROGRAM

– On December 7, in Monaco an extraordinary session of the IOC will be held, where Olympic program reform will be discussed, in particular. Are  you keeping abreast of the issue?

– Certainly I am. I have just returned from Lausanne where I took part in the IOC Executive Board meeting, where these issues were discussed. The main trend of changes in the Olympic program is to focus on sports and not on the events. There are strict limits on the number of participants of the Games — it’s  unreal to accept more than ten and a half thousand athletes at the Summer Games. But in some sports, new disciplines can be added, and in others the number of disciplines can be reduced. It is assumed that the number of events and medals contested (including new sports) will increase without an increase in the number of participants.

– As for the changes that are being prepared, are they  revolutionary or cosmetic?

– We should hardly expect revolutionary changes, but some changes are, of course, awaiting for us.

– There are a lot of new disciplines in the program of the Youth Olympic Games to be held in Nanjing, China from 16 to 28 August – streetball, basketball skills, mixed events. These experiments are  to be taken seriously?

– Yes, it’s a trial of possible changes to the adult Games program. The IOC ensures the promotion of the disciplines most popular among young people. That’s exactly the way slopestyle was added to the Olympic Winter Games program, and mountain biking to the summer games program. 

VICTORY IN NANJING IS NOT AN END IN ITSELF

– Talking about the Youth Olympic Games, is there any medal plan for Nanjing?

– We have no medal plans, but it is obvious that any athlete hopes to win when going to the competition no matter how old he is. The athletes of our team are mostly world sports leaders in their age groups.  They can definitely count on  good results. Another thing is that the victory in the team event in Nanjing is not an end in itself for us.

– Will you be upset if we will not be able to fight  for the first place with the Chinese athletes?

– I always get upset when our athletes deliver not very good performance or if they perform worse than we have expected, but we must understand that the fight for victory in the team event at the Youth Olympic Games is different from the fight in adults’ competitions, if only because young athletes have international teams. Yes,  Chinese athletes are our major competitors. They perform at home, and they are more used to the hot and humid climatic conditions of Nanjing and, unlike us, are represented in all team competitions. But Russia also has a very strong team.

– Will the result of our performance in Nanjing be a sort of forecast for the future and  evaluation of the status of Russian sport?

– In a certain sense, yes. Because many athletes performing at the Youth Olympic Games, will join national teams. And some of them will represent  adult national teams at the closest adult Olympics, especially in those sports where athletes achieve high results at a young age, for example, in the gymnastics. Some of those who will go to Nanjing, are now successfully performing at the adult competitions. However, a successful  career   is not automatically guaranteed to them. Some successful young athletes get lost when moving to adult sport.

– Why did the U.S. team, which has traditionally been among the leaders in adult competitions, get lost at the previous Youth Olympic Games, both summer and winter?

– As far as I know, the Americans had not sent the strongest team before. But this situation will change. Will  this happen in Nanjing, it is difficult to say. I do not know which team will represent  the USA this year.

– No cash prizes are awarded at the Youth Olympic Games. Maybe the ROC is going to award the heroes of the Games some valuable gifts?

– The most talented athletes based on the results of their performance in Nanjing become one of the Russian Olympians Foundation fellows. This will help them solve some of their financial problems.