Stanislav Pozdnyakov: “Аn active approach during the self-isolation regime”

The President of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) Stanislav Pozdnyakov gave a lengthy interview to RIA Novosti and spoke about how athletes are returning to the usual training process, when and how the ROC plans to organize mass events, the ROC’s online projects during the quarantine period and its financial situation, and also about the troubles in the world of Russian athletics as well as internal contradictions in the Russian Biathlon Union, and why on the eve of Russia Day the leaders of the ROC still have reason to celebrate the achievements of Russian sport.

“Today’s Olympians perform on a higher professional level”

– How smoothly are athletes of the Russian national teams resuming full-time training? Is everything going according to plan and is there a plan?

– I have to say that during the time that we spent in quarantine the whole world experienced cardinal changes. The first and most important point is that all the countries of the world are on equal footing right now. And what initially seemed to be an advantage for a country that had passed the peak of the pandemic and returned to centralized training ultimately does not count. I will explain my position further.

The biggest problem today in the international sports movement is the absence of a clear competition calendar. Yes, the new dates have been announced for the Tokyo Olympics next year. However, the dates for other competitions remain unknown. Not a single federation has fully published the draft calendar for the current sports season. The scheduled calendar plan is crucial for athletes preparing for the main events and keeping fit in the run-up to the Games. Now this process is at the initial stage. International federations are figuring out how to integrate certain tournaments into the training and selection procedures. In many sports, almost half of the qualification spots have not yet been determined. These are the basic issues we are faced with as we emerge from quarantine.

It is clear that each sport has its own training specifics requiring different physical activities and training modes. No one is going to order everyone to work out on the same level. Some athletes constantly need to be in centralized training and it was they who were the first in line to start training at the Novogorsk and Ozero Krugloye training centers. It is clear that such forced intervals of non-training were unprecedented. Therefore, athletes’ conditions can be compared with those right after recovery from prolonged injuries.

But most importantly, as many experts have noted, all athletes-candidates for the Olympic teams of Russia without exception spent this time with benefit. While in self-isolation, everyone took an active approach to training. Everyone knows that lockdown measures in Moscow were lifted and the situation changed significantly quite suddenly. But all our athletes were ready for such prompt changes which was definitely an advantage. I believe that the efforts of the Ministry of Sport to gradually reopen training bases and switch to centralized training will be supported by the entire sports community.

But the most important thing is not to rush the transition period from limited general training

to full-time specialized training, especially, given the fact that there is still one year to go until the Games are held. We are well aware that if athletes begin to abruptly increase training intensity, their bodies will not be able to withstand such physical exertion especially within 13 consecutive months. Specialists propose a careful, competent approach with a certain amount of creativity and innovation since we are dealing with such a situation for the very first time.

This seems like an experiment. But with each passing day we acquire more and more knowledge which includes valuable information from our foreign colleagues and our partnered NOCs allowing us to evade mistakes.

– Is this not an open exchange of information between competitors? Before, rivals were not inclined to share the secrets of training with each other. Isn’t that a bit odd?

– The last three months have triggered cardinal changes across the world, and not only in the sports sphere. I do not mean the open exchange of best practices or methods in preparation for sports competitions. I am talking about the experience that the world has accumulated as we return to the normal functioning of society. This has more to do with solidarity expressed by many today in the Olympic movement. We are all going through trials and tribulations. And I am happy to note that the unity of athletes and coaches from different countries clearly shows that the global Olympic movement maintained its integrity in the face of global obstacles and challenges.

– Meaning that the quarantine revealed the maturity of individual athletes who did not allow themselves to idle away and the entire Olympic movement as a whole? Is it appropriate to talk about the serious attitude of each and every athlete?

– That’s right. If we consider how our current athletes trained online, I can say that my generation of athletes would hardly have done the same. Today’s Olympic hopefuls are more attentive and dedicated on an individual level in regard to training. This is very noticeable. Everyone who trained under lockdown conditions in apartments or dachas did not do this because someone was giving them instructions. There was no one to force or supervise them as coaches themselves were also in quarantine. It took a lot of self-discipline and willpower on the part of athletes.

Each athlete understood what was at stake. If you remember, our first hockey players who left for the NHL were amazed at how all the players there got into shape for the beginning of the sports season. So many athletes from my generation wondered – how can you not start the season from scratch? Or how can you not have excess weight after vacation? (Laughs). Anyway, in my opinion the current generation is more professional in this regard.

“In view of today’s accessibility to information we can only elaborate on the details”

– The Minister of Sport Oleg Matytsin recently said that foreign training camps were ruled out in the near future for obvious reasons, adding that Russia had all the necessary training facilities. Are foreign trainings camps needed at all then? Are they even being considered by the leadership of the ROC and the sports federations?

– I wholeheartedly agree with the Minister of Sport – now is not the time for organizing training camps abroad. Russia has created all the necessary training conditions for various sports disciplines and there are numerous sports facilities of the highest level. Specific sports form an exception to this rule. For example, skiers and mountain skiers usually start their season in the Alps, where there are unique opportunities for training. Unfortunately, we do not have the same conditions in Russia. Nevertheless, even such specialized training does not continue throughout the whole season, we are only talking about the initial stage.

And the second point here is the issue of climatic and geographical adaptation to the conditions of the geographical venues of the Olympic Games. The Russian Olympic Committee successfully implemented adaptation programmes for the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2018 Winter Olympics. Currently, one is being developed for Tokyo. An important part of these preliminary preparations is organizing training events in the venue where the Games will take place. Our athletes go there to train along with specialists who provide scientific and medical support and advice. We bring together the entire amount of information and, in conjunction with our partners from the FMBA, we release a guidance manual that can be used by sports federations that did not participate in these events.

For instance, in the run-up to the Games in Tokyo and before our plans were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, we organized training camps in Japan in 16 disciplines part of 13 sports. This was done with the aim of understanding and analyzing all the reactions of the body to the specific climatic and geographic conditions of Japan. The truth is that in modern high-achievement sport every small detail counts. In view of today’s accessibility to information, large players use similar methods and technologies. Therefore, sometimes one can only elaborate on the details and nuances. Yes, we have quite a lot of excellent sports facilities and training centers in Russia and some of them are probably the best in the world. But at the same time, it is very important to study and understand the conditions of foreign venues.

“A sports festival will become a symbol of unity for the sports community as we emerge from quarantine”

– You said that it was impossible to rush competitions bearing in mind that the Games start within a year. How about organizing mass events? Will they be held any time soon? Or do we need to make an effort for this to happen? A sporting event without fans isn’t what sport is all about, right?

– I agree. However, we need to be careful amid the coronavirus outbreak so as not to spread the virus across the country that is why cautious steps and measures should to be taken. The point is not to completely prohibit fans from attending stadiums or mass sporting events. This needs to be done step by step, in my opinion. For example, under a plan drawn up by Russian football authorities, spectators will be allowed to attend matches if they don’t exceed 10 percent of the stadium’s capacity. I think that on the part of Rospotrebnadzor, this was the right, logical course of action.

The other day I had a telephone conversation with the Deputy Director General of the International Olympic Committee discussing the return of ROC employees to the office with normal working hours on Monday.  The Swiss health regulator, similar to our Rospotrebnadzor, recommends that no more than a third of employees show up for work at any given moment. It is clear that Switzerland went through the peak of the pandemic much earlier that is why it is emerging earlier. On our part we will take similar steps taking into account the recommendations of Rospotrebnadzor.

And returning to the question of mass events, I can say that we are considering the possibility of organizing them based on the current situation. Today we have planned a large-scale sports festival scheduled for August. We hope that in two months we will be able to arrange the cultural and sports event. We want to organize our traditional All-Russian Olympic Day, which has been held for many years with the participation of regional Olympic Councils in all constituent entities across the country from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Kaliningrad.

Initially the event was planned to be held at Luzhniki at the end of June according to tradition. For obvious reasons, we decided, along with our partners from the Ministry of Sport and Moskomsport, to postpone the date and organize the sports festival later, dedicated to All-Russian Olympic Day, Day of the Athlete, and at the same time the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Olympic Games. The main task of all our organizations is to hold this event together. The sports festival will become a symbol of unity for the sports community as we emerge from quarantine.

“The quarantine opened up new possibilities for us online”

– The desire of people to return to traditional face-to-face communication is completely understandable. But for several months we had to communicate online. In your opinion, were the ROC’s online projects organized during the quarantine period successful?

– Yes, they were a great success. And the accumulated experience will be useful for the future. A large number of events held online and some projects such as Olympic Patrol brought us even closer to our target audience, namely, our young athletes, as the number of participants who joined us online was much higher. As part of this project, young people learned about the history of the Olympic movement, Olympic values and great champions, and they also had a chance to see famous Russian athletes.

As for other ROC online projects such as “Training with Champions”, “Kvartiriada” and the recent “Challenge” from ZASPORT aimed at sporting families, they are certainly interesting and productive. Each project is attended by our eminent Olympians and famous accomplished athletes who serve as role models for entire generations. Therefore, of course, communicating with them, even though online was more than interesting to the wide target audience. I am sure that this direction towards interaction online will make a significant contribution to popularizing sport and a healthy lifestyle.

We took note of the coverage area of these projects, the number of participants and overall views – this accumulated data will be useful for developing our Olympic Country programme, our flagship project in the field of mass sport. We will enhance the process of providing information effectively to the target audience within the frames of this project. Summarizing our time spent online, I can say the quarantine gave us new materials for consideration at the same time opening up new possibilities.

– Are there plans to monetize these online events? Today’s online projects are aimed at making profits. Earning some extra money would be advantageous, would you agree?

– I would not want to jump ahead and announce that we are aiming to make profits at the expense of athletes. The trend you are talking about exists. During our administrative meetings, we regularly discuss potential marketing areas, including the digital sphere along with high-quality audience targeting. This is the most important aspect of promoting and popularizing the brand of the Russian Olympic Committee and our flagship projects that we launch with the help of our colleagues and athletes. Monetization at this stage is not a goal in itself but it should be taken into account in the long run.

“There is no need to talk about reduced funding in the run-up to the Games”

– Funding is a challenging topic to discuss especially now during a general decline in the economic sector. Does the ROC plan to optimize expenses?

– We have done this since day one when we found ourselves in forced self-isolation. The first thing we had to do as quickly as possible was to review the indicators of our key programmes for training athletes for the Games in Tokyo and Beijing. It is clear that due to the postponement of the XXXII Summer Olympics, it was necessary to find opportunities in order to cover the additional costs of our federations for another year. We successfully resolved all issues, optimized funds in the budget so that when adjusted, it would not affect winter sports. Funds for the Tokyo Games were allocated from other sources.

Of course, because of this, we were forced to revise the operating conditions of our subsidiary divisions. Financially the ROC, due to the coronavirus pandemic, has suffered significantly, and we had to reduce some cost items. However, our main task is to provide athletes with the most comfortable conditions and opportunities while preparing for the Olympic Games. At the moment, there is not a single request from any federation that we would not fulfill. Another key moment is that we are entirely fulfilling all our obligations. That is why there can be no talk of reduced funding on the part of ROC in terms of preparing for the upcoming Olympic Games.

– Several days ago you announced that the ROC planned to allocate 426 million rubles for the sports federations.

– This is the total sum of two components. 200 million rubles of planned expenses plus an additional 267 million. In total, the sum is around 500 million rubles. From this sum 426 million rubles has been reserved for the sports federations. These funds were allocated for the period from April 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021 if the Tokyo Games are held as planned in line with the new dates.

“It’s unpleasant that our leading track-and-field athletes became hostages of World Athletics”

– There is another financial conundrum – the requirement of World Athletics for RusAF to pay $5 million. Will the ROC go ahead with this payment? Can payment be delayed while we bargain? Indeed, without this payment, World Athletics is not going to allow our athletes to participate in international competitions even as neutral athletes. What is your opinion?

– In addition to the $5 million that you mentioned, a further $5 million has to be provided as a deposit meaning that the total sum equals $10 million. This is around 700 million rubles. The Russian Olympic Committee in this case cannot help financially. We have already allocated around 500 million rubles for additional training of athletes in summer sports. In order to provide the above sum to RusAF, we would have to withdraw funding from all federations and find another 200 million rubles to foot the bill from World Athletics.

I must mention that one of the most important achievements of sports diplomacy in recent years was connected with track-and-field athletics. What I mean is the fact that we achieved the right for Russian athletes to compete in competitions held under the auspices of the IOC as full representatives of the Russian Olympic team, not as neutral status athletes. There were many discussions held in this regard, but we were able to prove the validity of our position, and the IOC agreed with us.

Now World Athletics insists that we pay $10 million for 10 Russian athletes allowed to compete as neutrals before the Games, so that afterwards they can go to the Olympics. This means

$1 million per athlete. In my opinion, this is quite a big… challenge. I think that is all I will say in this respect. Moreover, this is not only a challenge for Russian athletics, but also to the entire Olympic movement because it is extremely difficult to agree to such conditions. I will explain why.

Any violation that is committed in a particular federation requires some kind of penalty – this is quite understandable. But today we clearly see how international federations are losing funds for various reasons. Sponsors are abandoning them and there are no opportunities for commercial activities.

The sports industry as a whole is hemorrhaging money. This unprecedented situation has clearly affected World Athletics which needs to make up for its significant budget deficit.

This is not guesswork. This information is available in the public domain concerning the financial performance of World Athletics. According to public data, in 2017 and 2018, this organization had a negative balance of $20 million. Following the results of 2019, World Athletics has already requested an advance payment from the IOC fund at the expense of future income from the sale of TV rights part of Tokyo 2020 revenue. If World Athletics is making such a request now, this means it is going through financial difficulties.

But now almost everyone is experiencing difficulties! And therefore, I believe that it would be right for all participants in this conflict to find the courage to reconsider conditions that seem out of line. To be honest, it is a shame that our leading athletes have become hostages of World Athletics in this particular situation. What is more, this does not add any credibility to the international athletics federation.

– But if the leadership of World Athletics refuses to see reason, then leading Russian track-and-field athletes will bear the brunt. We should be psychological prepared for this, right?

– Of course, we must be prepared for any scenario. We must also be ready to defend our position before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

“I am not the only one convinced that the international anti-doping organization must undergo reform”

– Hearings in Russia’s case WADA against RUSADA, the CAS have been moved from July to the beginning of November. CAS explained this decision by the ban on entry into Switzerland for citizens of non-EU countries. This had nothing to do with WADA. In short, this was a purely technical problem due to the global coronavirus outbreak. What’s your take on this? Might there be another reason for postponing the hearings to November?

– I cannot say anything else in this regard. CAS notified us through its Secretariat that any information or statements regarding the WADA against RUSADA dispute must be agreed upon beforehand. Therefore, I can suggest inquiring directly at CAS.

– You talked about WADA’s bias against Russian athletes, that in a steady flow of attempts to punish RUSADA, you could see a persistent desire of your colleagues from the international governing body to assume the right of being an investigator, prosecutor and punisher all at once. Are you not afraid that statements could have an adverse effect on the final decision?

– I am talking about the fact that everyone knows and understands perfectly well. My colleagues and I have discussed this situation many times at the international level. And there are numerous opinions that one organization, even an influential one such as WADA, cannot carry out all these actions.

WADA responded to my words with a statement that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is responsible for rendering the final decision on this particular case thereby indicating the independence and impartiality of the proceedings.

However, if RUSADA had not disagreed with WADA’s Executive Committee decision and the ensuing consequences proposed by the Compliance Review Committee (CRC), then WADA’s sentence would have been handed down immediately. They accused us, made a decision to punish us and would have enforced this decision on us. That is what would have happened. Only because RUSADA disagreed with the ExCo’s decision did the case end up before CAS which also assumes the role of an appeals body.

Therefore, I am convinced that there is the need for reforms in the international anti-doping organization. Powers should be distributed evenly between different centers of influence. Now there is a monopoly. I am not the only one with such an opinion.

– You mean without reforms there is no hope of altering the biased attitude towards Russian athletes?

– Not exactly. As of now I do not consider this bias as something that will last forever.  What I am saying is that reforms in WADA should happen in any case. The events surrounding our Russian athletes only exacerbated and outlined the problems that are identified in an organization only at a time of crisis. And now such a crisis has come about.

– At any rate, the hearings have been postponed. Is this good or bad? Or should we be indifferent?

– From my point of view, this is not a bad development. The lawyers representing RUSADA, as well as the lawyers of ROC, RPC, IOC and IPC, as third parties to the process, will have the opportunity to clearly work on their positions regarding all relevant issues. In any case, I reacted to these changes quite calmly. For us it is most important that the decision, whatever it is, is not rendered on the eve of the Games in Tokyo, as this could have happened.

– There are several heartwarming dates we can mark without worrying about the state of Russian track-and-field athletics. The anniversary of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and Russia Day, would you agree?

– Of course. I have a feeling that CAS has a specialist on Russian holidays, the hearings have been postponed to the beginning of November, right around another public holiday (smiles).

“Russia is one of the five leading countries in terms of representation in sports organizations”

– And what are our positions in international federations right now? This is an important area of activity for the ROC, what can you tell us?

– Let’s figure out who forms the sports agenda today. The numbers are important here. Today, two of our compatriots work at the IOC. Plus, we have two honorary IOC members; these persons command high authority. Last year our colleagues were elected into the Executive Committees of two large associations – ANOC (Association of National Olympic Committees) and EOC (European Olympic Committees). That was a first in the entire period of Russian sports history.

This is significant as it is not only enough to be elected, but it also counts to have specialists who draft the agenda, as well as protect and promote the interests of Russia. I should mention that today 9 representatives of Russia work in key commissions of the IOC. Furthermore, Minister of Sport Oleg Matytsin has been re-elected as President of the International Federation of University Sports, one of the largest sports organizations.

Both Alisher Usmanov, President of the International Fencing Federation, and Vladimir Lisin, President of the International Shooting Sport Federation, are confident in their leadership having carried out structural reforms that have paved the way for these sports to become more interesting for spectators and more attractive in terms of commercial development. The other day I heard on one programme how Vyacheslav Fetisov claimed that there was no one to protect or defend the rights of Russia in sport as we had only a couple of presidents in secondary international federations.

Mr. Fetisov, apparently, does not have in-depth information and remains ignorant of the fact that one of the basic Olympic values ​​is respect. In the modern Olympic movement, all federations have the same weight and command equal respect, regardless of their budget amounts. By the way, representatives of the above federations are competing for 27 medals at the Olympics, which is almost 10 percent of the overall count.

What is more, the leaders, whom Mr. Fetisov so lightly referred to, are among the most respected persons in the sports community and in many ways serve as role models in terms of creating an effective management structure in international sports organizations. As for fencing, this sport has been in the Olympic programme since 1896. Furthermore, the President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach is an Olympic champion in fencing. Each sport is relevant in its own right.

In addition, we have Vice Presidents in the International Gymnastics Federation, UIPM, International Judo Federation and FINA. By and large, the number of Russian representatives in various federations is growing steadily despite the complicated political and sporting environment. Today, we are among the five leading countries in terms of representation in sports organizations. This is an unofficial Olympic accomplishment that we should be proud of.

“Conflict within the RBU has left its mark on all the other national sports federations”

– At the same time, we have trouble at home as well. The Russian Biathlon Union is now experiencing internal contradictions, and even the Ministry of Sport is making efforts to sort this out. Do you think this is a normal process of democracy in sport or is this completely unacceptable?

– I will not judge or place the blame on any party to the conflict, but I believe that any attempts to discredit a leader and call for his resignation before his term ends paint a very unpleasant picture. This suggests that the leadership of the RBU cannot fulfill its obligations that were undertaken two years ago. I do not know if elections will be held or if a new leader will be selected. In any case, this does not bode well for Russian sport.

The situation that we can observe in the RBU brings to mind a Russian proverb – “Victory has many fathers, but defeat is always an orphan.” In this case we talk about defeat. In the absence of sporting success, the search for guilty parties begins. To date, they have been identified. Whether this fair or not, only time will tell, but the saddest part is that the situation obviously does not advance our agenda. This not only has an adverse effect on the RBU and Russian biathlon as a whole. This unpleasant situation has left its mark on all the other national sports federations. We now live in the age of an integral information space, and if today we have similar problems in biathlon, there’s no guarantee that they won’t appear in other sports tomorrow. There is always a possibility of the domino effect.

A large amount of money is invested in biathlon and these unfortunate events have caused potential sponsors to think twice before offering support. Moreover, when a particular sport does not have enough finances, then it is up to the Ministry of Sport or the ROC to provide assistance. Therefore, I can say that I will remain neutral in regard to the contradictions within the biathlon community. I would also like to highlight the risks this situation has for Russian sport as a whole.

“We will go forward along the path that we have laid before us”

– In light of all these developments in Russia and on the international arena, as well as the country’s gradual exit from coronavirus restrictions, we have a special holiday right around the corner. In your opinion, does Russian sport deserve any praise on the eve of Russia Day?

– Sport in Russia has become more than just a competition between individual athletes. It has become a philosophy of life for a multitude of people. I won’t even cite any figures now. It should come as no surprise that numerous people across the country go in for sports, striving to lead a healthy lifestyle. It is clear that people have different opportunities, however, an interest and an enthusiasm for sport exist. This is the most important component.

The second thing I would like to point out is the stable performance of our athletes on the international stage. I couldn’t be happier as this is an incentive as we go forward. In spite of all the difficulties that exist in relation to WADA and other organizations, the prospects for Russian sport are good. We will get through this as we move towards new sports victories. I strongly believe that our federations are improving with each passing day and the Russian Olympic Committee is commanding greater authority among colleagues. This is the path that we have laid before us.

I would like to congratulate everyone on upcoming Russia Day and on the eve of this wonderful holiday it would not be out of place to recall our legendary coaches who went through multiple difficulties in developing our sport and laid the foundation that we have now. And our great athletes who, in addition, serve as role models for the younger generation. We have much to be proud of and success in sport most certainly remains as one of the key elements of an independent, prosperous Russia. This is what we all want for our country.