Watch Solidarity Games, keep the Olympics in mind

Will Russian athletes refuse the country and sports communities that have supported them for many years? Will they flee from Russia like it happened en masse in the late USSR during the last year of Mikhail Gorbachyov’s rule? Journalist of Realnoe Vremya’s sports staff Jaudat Abdullin reflects on this in his report.

Respect for Tatarstan

There are fewer questions for Tatarstan in the situation with criteria of how Russian athletes can be allowed to compete at the Olympics. Both for the sports ministry and the administration of the republic, they worked for the future in the past. Perhaps, this happened spontaneously, but when you bring different facts altogether, it turns out to be an interesting mosaic.

Tatarstan athletes participated in very local competitions as early as under Sport Minister Marat Bariyev’s rule — the 2005 Islamic Games. In an interview with our newspaper honourable coach Olga Pavlova recalled how they lived and competed in Tehran following Sharia requirements, though the athletic team had her student Yelena Migunova, plus Alyona Kurakina and two Yekaterinas — Kondratyeva and Kharitonova, and all of them are non-Muslims. This happened once but the experience is memorable. And it is not only medals but also contacts they started to establish, it is not accidental that Marat Bariyev today is the vice president of the international committee of the Children of Asia.

Then, we should say about the arrival of Jaudat Minnakhmetov to the management of the international belt wrestling kuresh federation. He became the president of the international federation only in 2013 but received influence in the administration much earlier. At some moment, all world championships in Kazan and then in the village of Minger were puzzling resembling window dressing. But if we examine the Russian-speaking press of Central Asian republics, every medal of their representative in such championships arouses interest in the mass media. The sports work in many ex-Union republics, if not in all of them, is designed according to USSR patterns, and the development of sport is a direct responsibility of federations under the ministry’s control. Medals from international competitions are a report, and the world kuresh championship isn’t worse in this regard because “the world championship” is key in this phrase.

Later, with the coming of Vladimir Leonov to the sport management of Tatarstan, vectors of international work of his ministry started to be traced when Mr Leonov was responsible for the whole world and his first deputy Khalil Shaykhutdinov was for former USSR republics, the Eastern world. Once in a long talk with Shaykhutdinov about his trip to the Nomad Games, it was hard for the correspondent of the newspaper to understand the meaning of this competition. Just a few years later, during the pandemic, Vice President of the international federal Ravil Nogumanov talked about the possibilities of the federation to organise a fully-fledged world championship when there weren’t any international competitions in Russia. There were few and far between in the world in general.

By that time, Tatarstan had a clientele, so to speak, being able to invite a big number of countries from the Muslim world to competitions in the republic. And the membership of the republic’s representatives in the World Ethnosport Confederation was obtained not to sit on the panel of an unclear organisation but to strengthen established international links.

When Russian was Europecentric, Tatarstan worked on multiple vectors

“In the rear,” Tatarstan has Dynamo voluntary sports community, it is chaired by Asgat Safarov and his first aide Salavat Gaysin. It is just enough to talk with Dynamo athletes and coaches about how we compete internationally on behalf of this community to understand the scale. And this is only the tip of the sports iceberg.

When Russia seemed to be Europecentric, Tatarstan worked on multiple vectors, and when a part of the Western world wanted to put sports Russia in isolation, “horizontal” contacts of federations, personal connections of Safarov and Minnakhmetov, Bariyev and Shaykhutdinov, Gaysin and Nogumanov and many-many others were put into action.

This winter Tatarstan Rais Rustam Minnikhanov “came out of the shadow” and initiated the creation of the Ice Hockey Development Association of Islamic Countries. This is why now we can tell the IOC administration that laid down conditions for Russia’s comeback to the international sports community that it is going to very hard to bend Russia through sport.

We will ask every time where China is

But the goal of this article is not to make compliments, no analysis can be flattering. Every international competition in Russia must contain a question before its start and after its end: why isn’t there China among the participants? It goes without saying before the performance of athletes from the Celestial Kingdom at the Solidarity Cup.

There was a photo of a combat between Russian Nikita Glazkov and Chinese Wang Zijie on the main page of official website of the tournament. But it is nothing but an optical illusion. There weren’t any Chinese in Kazan, sadly, there hadn’t been any Chinese in our competitions earlier either.

Tatarstan created an Islamic, Near Eastern agenda, and we will attribute the cooperation with Asian republics of the former USSR to results of joint activity, though the first 2021 Games of CIS Countries were in Kazan too. By the way, what about the second competition? It was promised to be held once in two years. But sports China has yet appeared only at the 3rd Winter Chinese-Russian Youth Games in Changchun in terms of cooperation. But apart from that, there is a problem with China only legendary diver Dmitry Sautin made public saying: “We are holding talks but for some reason they haven’t yet replied to us.” But why, by the way? Meanwhile, together with China we members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, the RAS). Who is responsible for China in the Russian Ministry of Sport, in sports federations? This is the first question. The second question is what are we doing? An abstract answer isn’t accepted.

While Vasin listens...

There is a suspicion, to be honest, that the situation is like eight years ago when I witnessed a conversation between President of the Water Polo Federation Yevgeny Sharonov and legendary diver, then President of the Russian Olympic Committee Vladimir Vasin during the 2015 World FINA Championships. Sharonov told Vasin about a demarche of Spartak team from Volgograd that directly confronted the Water Polo Federation in 2015, this is why Russia’s national team was based on Sintez team from Kazan. It doesn’t matter, the most important thing is that at that moment Vasin had heard nothing about this conflict lasting for over six months (there are just five water sports and it is in general strange not to know about the main scandal of the year).

The conclusion of that conversation was that Vasin asked President of The Water Sports Federation Alexey Vlasenko to help him organise a party with Italian colleagues Franco Cagniotto (his daughter Tania competed at the world championship in 2015) and Claus Dibiasi. In other words, the management of the federation was asked to shake a leg, though the meeting could be organised without third parties. As it is seen, this is the reason for today’s underdeveloped relations with China when culturally close Buryatia or Tuva couldn’t establish relations with the Celestial Kingdom, there wasn’t found another region like Tatarstan to do this task, while sports Moscow didn’t even try to.

What we can talk about if the Russian-Chinese Youth Games are an agreement of the management of both countries when Vladimir Putin and then PRC Chairman Hu Jintao made a decision on a joint tournament in 2005. And only one illustrative example of cooperation the Russian Handball Federation set up can be remembered since remote 2005 until now. What about the Ministry of Sport, the Russian Olympic Committee? Talkative Vitaly Mutko, laconic Oleg Matytsin, their numerous colleagues (Fetisov and Kolobkov, Zhukov and Pozdnyakov) haven’t managed to do anything to bring our countries closer in sports cooperation over these 18 years.

Jaudat Abdullin

The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.