‘The score isn’t in our favour at the moment’ — Vladimir Leonov on consequences of WADA’s decision

Republic’s minister of sport on year-end results, fate of Tatarstan sport and preparation for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo

The final press conference with the minister of sport of Tatarstan on 28 December was expectedly marred by the recent decision of WADA about Russian sport. Nevertheless, the republican ministry of sport keeps its spirits up. At the briefing, Vladimir Leonov said who was ready to go to the Olympics to Tokyo from Tatarstan, what venues would open in the republic in 2020 and why professional teams made their fans happy so little in 2019. Read about these and other sporting events in Realnoe Vremya’s report.

What WADA restrictions will affect Tatarstan?

“The sports year has been rich in big events compared to the last year,” Minister of Sport Vladimir Leonov recognised. “To tell the truth, it is hard to outperform the year of the FIFA WC. But, as you see, the score isn’t in our favour at the moment. We had and have a desire to apply to host the Youth Olympic Games. But at the moment WADA banned everything in Russia. So we can’t apply just physically, we can just wait to see how the situation will unfold,” the functionary states with a tinge of sadness.

Later during the press conference, Leonov repeatedly harked back to this problem but assured that Tatarstan wasn’t affected by the recommendation of the World Anti-Doping Agency as much as it had been considered at first.

“Despite the story with WADA, we will host all of our tournaments. We understand that we will host them, there aren’t any problems today. Contracts were signed, and we are gradually preparing for all scheduled competitions. Nobody is holding talks with us. Tatarstan and Kazan is a place where hosting such competitions is a must. Everything fits here — infrastructure, management, marketing. We look at the prospects positively.”

With “all competitions” Leonov means, first of all, two big aquatic competitions, Kazan got the right to host them precisely two days to the verdict of WADA. It is the 2021 European Short-Course Swimming Championships and the 2024 European Aquatics Championships. Our newspaper reached out to Vladimir Leonov two weeks ago and he assured that all contractual obligations with WADA were met and FINA didn’t have talks about cancelling the competitions.

The functionary didn’t forget to mention the biggest aquatic competition on the planet — the FINA World Championship that Kazan once hosted (in 2015) — that certainly won’t be banned by World Anti-Doping Agency, as the ban expires in 2024.

“We will return these competitions here in 10 years, there will be a kind of jubilee,” Leonov concluded.

However, another important issue remained. The Tatarstan Ministry of Sport had claimed previously that it was agreeing to change the years of World Championships between Qatar and Kazan — our capital is up for 2023. And if we go by the logic of events, such an exchange after WADA’s decision remains under question. Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent clarified how the agency’s restrictions would affect the plans to exchange the competitions with Qatar.

“Actually, these events don’t depend on each other,” Leonov replied. “WADA has sent its recommendations to international organisations today, and we have an agreement with FINA. After this happened, we talked with them, and they don’t impose any sanctions against us. In other words, we will host the world championship either in 2025 or 2023. The same is true for our application for the UEFA Super Cup,” Vladimir Leonov assured.

How many Tatarstan athletes are preparing for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo?

Even despite the total ban imposed by WADA on Russian sport, the minister says that the preparation of Tatarstan athletes in individual sports for the 2020 Olympic Games went on according to plan.

“We do everything that depends on us as a region according to plan. We continue the gradual preparation of our athletes for the Olympics in Tokyo,” Leonov assured.

According to the Ministry of Sport of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russian national teams in Olympic sports include 377 Tatarstan athletes. 38 Tatarstan athletes in 13 sports will go to the Olympic and Paralympic Games to Tokyo. Leonov reminded about athletes’ awards in university competitions. Tatarstan athletes won 22 medals: eight at Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk and 14 at the Summer Universiade in Napoli.

The minister also talked about performances of athletes in different aquatic competitions who represent the republic in general and its Sintez sports club, which is supported by TAIF GC.

“I will note that Nikita Shleikher and Aleksandr Belentsev became European diving champions for the first time in history.”

Then it was said about accomplishments in individual sports. Milena Bykova became the winner of the FIS Snowboard World Cup stage (for the second time), Anna Nechayevskaya is a bronze medallist of the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships (4x5 relay). Andrey Larkov is a silver medallist of the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships (4x10 relay) and a bronze medallist of the FIS Cross-Country World Cup.

Realnoe Vremya correspondent’s another question was about figure skaters who are pupils of the Tatarstan school competing for other regions:

We have Valiyeva, Lazareva in women’s singles and men. Are you going to come into contact with them?

“I believe we will certainly resolve this issue by the next year, we are in constant contact with them,” Mr Leonov assured. “Here the question is if they will understand where best to train and so on. There will be a comeback, a lot is done in this respect.”

“Rubin is a brand of the republic”

It goes without saying that the Tatarstan sport minister also mentioned professional teams that traditionally brought trophies to the republic on the Russian and international stage. However, 2019 has turned out one of the least successful years in the last decade. Ak Bars failed in the play-off, UNICS Basketball Club was eliminated in the play-off early, while the most awarded Tatarstan club Zenit-Kazan Volleyball Club didn’t keep any trophy — it lost the championship in Russia, the World Club Championship and Champions League. Just two field hockey teams became champions of Russia — men’s Dinamo-Kazan and women’s Dinamo-GAP. The minister of sport found a few pluses in the unsuccessful year:

“Both field hockey teams ended the season with a triumph — both the men and women. I even don’t know which team won the nationals 17 times,” Leonov noted the performance of the men’s Dinamo-Kazan. “These days the volleyball players finally have rehabilitated and returned us the feeling of triumph — the girls have won the cup five times. And the men traditionally won their Cup of Russia in Moscow.”

KAMAZ-Master traditionally performs successfully. The team became the winner of Dakar rally marathon for the 16th time. Eduard Nikolayev’s crew became the winner among lorries. Another Russian crew — that of Dmitry Sotnikov — became the runner-up.

“As it is known, we agreed with producer Fyodor Bondarchuk to shoot a series about the Chelny team. Shooting will begin in January — some shooting will be not only in Chelny but also Kazan and Astrakhan. We plan that the pilot project will be ready for August or September, while the series will be screen in autumn. There will be about 8 series,” Vladimir Leonov promised.

According to him, UNICS is also a good, strong club, it is quite steady. Today it is closely working with fans and gathers a lot of spectators in the stands. There are bright victories, but the club doesn’t always play at the top.

“I can’t help but talk about Rubin. Its current state leaves a lot to be desired. The beginning of the season wasn’t easy — Roman Sharonov chaired the team, and the start wasn’t bad, and then there was a number of ties and defeats,” the minister noted. “Now one of the best specialists in Russian football Leonid Slutsky headed the club. The club has everything to show a good result, but as he said, ‘I am not a magician’. But I think that he can fix the situation in the league and to go back to the top 5, to which we got used to, and consequently, play European Cups. We wish the club luck and believe that Rubin will find itself. Rubin is also one of the brands and trends of our republic. Even though it isn’t a leader now, if we say ‘Rubin’ somewhere, it is directly associated with Tatarstan.”

Biathlon complex, rugby arena and Beach Sports Centre

According to the head of the Ministry of Sport, Tatarstan remains one of the leaders in number and quality of sports venues — the republic has over 11,000 of such. Moreover, in 2019 new sports venues opened not only in Kazan but also in districts and other cities of the republic. Leonov noted Neftyanik hockey training centre in Almetyevsk with two ice sites as one of the milestones.

“Such a centre was built in Almetyevsk that not only KHL but also NHL clubs would envy,” he assured.

Besides the oil capital, Yudino settlements, Bogatye Saby (Saba Arena) got ice rinks. 105 universal sports sites were put into operation across the republic, including nine hockey rinks. The construction of four indoor venues began: three for football and one for football and rugby.

“You see by yourself how popular rugby became in our country. It is promoted at the level of the national team too, not to mention the global scale. So it was decided to build such a venue for rugby,” Leonov reported.

The construction of a beach sports centre, an indoor ice palace with two artificial sites for training, a cycling track and a skiing and biathlon complex in Mirny settlement will begin in Kazan in 2020.

Apart from the construction of new venues, Leonov says that it is time to repair the venues built for the Universiade and earlier — 150 million rubles from Tatarstan’s budget were allocated for these needs.

Children and youth sport

As for children and youth sport, according to the Ministry of Sport of the Republic of Tatarstan, the total number of people doing sports reserve training system today is 91,335 people.

In late 2018, the Ministry of Sport offered to raise financial rewards to young athletes to keep them in Tatarstan teams, the initiatives were supported by Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov in 2019 too.

“The world is changing, everything is becoming a bit more expensive, this is why the government has met us halfway,” Leonov stated.

Firstly, leading athletes’ scholarships for great sports accomplishments in all-Russian and international competitions went up. The amount of payments in non-Olympic and Olympic sports increased from 25% to 50% (the minimum amount grew from 625 rubles to 1,250 rubles a month).

Secondly, payments for great sports achievements in the Championship of Russia, Russian Youth Competition and the Championship of Russia, Russian University Championship increased. Now young athletes will receive 3,000 rubles a month instead of previous 2,500 rubles. Also, athletes are supposed to receive a one-time payment for infrastructure equal to 20,000 rubles.

TAIF helps aquatics

Vladimir Leonov especially noted Sintez among image-related projects. Today this sports club includes three aquatic sports at once and all top athletes competing in water sports under the flag of Tatarstan and Russia, including the winners of the Universiade and champions of Europe — Nikita Shleikher, Aleksandr Krasnykh and others.

“Sintez is a unique thing in general: apart from the professional water polo club, now our leading swimmers and divers represent this staff. We really thank the officials of the water sports club and Irek Zinnurov, he helps us very much, including in his work in the State Duma. The water polo team is fine today, and there are good chances of ending the year first, there are good changes in Europe too. Thanks to TAIF Group of Companies for helping us,” Leonov concluded.

By Erik Dobrolyubov