President Vladimir Putin has praised all those who took part, attended and organized the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The far-reaching 17-day event "opened the door not only to Russia, but also to the Russian soul, to the hearts of our people," he said.
Vladimir Putin spoke about Russia's Olympic victories during an interview with journalists from Channel One, Rossiya-1, NTV, and RBC TV. He shared his take on the athletes' stamina, patriotic feelings, the global sports community, as well as constructive criticism.
Irada Zeynalova (Channel One): Mr President, I would like to begin by congratulating you. The successful Olympic Games are being praised by everyone who was there: IOC members, athletes, guests and fans. Nearly everything went smoothly, without a hitch. Are you now prepared to tell us what this level of organisation cost you and your team? And how were you able to achieve these results in general?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: This was a team result; the first part was the creation of sports, engineering and transport infrastructure. And here, of course, I must state directly that the Government of the Russian Federation played the most important role, as I have already said before – both the previous Government and the current one. So ultimately, the main burden was with the key ministries: the Natural Resources Ministry, the Transport Ministry, and ministries and departments that were in one way or another involved in the construction, as well as big Russian infrastructure companies, Russian Railways, and major construction companies. This was the main work carried out at this site, with ministers, deputy ministers, the Prime Minister, as well as your humble servant in his previous role, and Mr Medvedev, as Prime Minister today and when he was still president, working here too. In other words, this was a joint, collective, large-scale effort.
I have met with the athletes and said that at a certain point, we ourselves began to fully believe we would succeed in building and creating everything. But the celebration would not have been as impressive as it is today without the outstanding victory by our national team. And this, of course, is a very significant factor; indeed, all of this was done for the benefit of sport. But from the beginning, we really wanted to make this a major, national sports celebration for our country. I have already talked about this, we have many problems, we are used to having those problems, but we had to bring the party to our streets too. I think we have been able to achieve this. But at the same time, we were always thinking about the global sports community, about our partners, about foreign athletes. We wanted to create a celebration for the entire sports world, for the entire planet. And we are very pleased that we succeeded in doing so. The result has been ambitious, high-quality and beautiful.
Sergei Brilev (Rossiya-1): Mr President, I want to return to the interview you gave me just three weeks ago, right before the Olympics. At the time, you were very cautious on the subject of the forecasts concerning how many medals we would win. It all ended in such triumph – first place – that Vancouver seems like a distant nightmare that never happened. But now, I understand that you were hinting at something. You told me then, “Watch and observe our young athletes.”
VP: That’s right.
SB: They really did an amazing job. But then, you begin to do some calculations.
VP: It wasn’t only the youth. Just look, we had experienced athletes competing in the luge. Some began their careers back in 1985.
SB: But going back to the young people, what do we have here? If we look, for example, at Yulia Lipnitskaya and Adelina Sotnikova. They are 15 and 17 years old. Minus four years from Vancouver – they were not at an age when a decision could have been made that they would triumph today.
VP: Could have been.
SB: So you are saying this decision was taken earlier? Not as a result of Vancouver?
VP: In these types of sports, an athlete’s career begins quite early. You remembered Adelina Sotnikova just now, but she remembered something different; she remembered and brought me a photograph. She told me, “Mr President, I promised you that I would become an Olympic champion, and I did it.”
SB: When did she make this promise?
VP: Exactly five years ago.
SB: So this happened before Vancouver?
VP: Exactly five years ago, she was twelve. She brought me the photograph as evidence of our conversation, where she was standing next to me, and I had my arm around her shoulders. She was looking at me, and I remember how she told me, “I promise that I will be an Olympic champion.”
SB: Do you mean to say that you decided to start all this even before Vancouver?
VP: You see the thing is that this was not my decision, but that of experts. It is important here not to try to replace those experts – be it engineers, environmentalists, constructions workers or coaches. Moreover, if we touch on this side of the matter, we must admit that the Ministry of Sports and Minister Mutko made a significant contribution to our achievements in sports. The same can be said of the coaches, because they also rely on expert advice.
Unfortunately, many of our people have moved to other countries. This is not bad, because we are a free country. This may sound primitive, but it is true: these are top class experts, a work force, which, as we know, always looks for places where it can best realise its potential. Currently, this country, I believe, is on the way to creating the best conditions for top class specialists. We are actively working on it and we are fully competitive with our partners in other countries. Many people are returning – both athletes and coaches. After the Olympics, a few more experts agreed to return. This is a long-term project, comparable to the construction of a ship or a submarine. It takes time and effort.
You know, when we were only launching these Olympics I said in one of my addresses that our team is very young and very promising. The main thing was to keep up the momentum, to increase efforts, to help athletes and coaches and all the different experts. Today’s sport of records, as my colleagues know, requires the involvement of various experts. These are the directions that we need to move in, which we shall do.
Kirill Kiknadze (NTV): Mr President, I would like to continue with the subject of mass sports and the experts that worked here. Germany has its approach, and I am sure you are aware of it.
VP: Yes, I am.
KK: They start monitoring children from the age of five or six. There is a case file on every boy or girl who may be of interest to big sports in some five-seven years. Would this be possible in this country, so that we begin when a child is only five or six?
VP: You yourself began with mass sports and then chose your professional track. These are not the same things. For us mass sport is of primary importance in terms of national health and even demographics. Here you mentioned the methods used by the Federal Republic of Germany and it resembles the Soviet approach. The only difference is that our system of mass sports training was run by the state, while, say, in the Federal Republic this is a private network. Incidentally, Mr Bach, the current President of the International Olympic Committee, used to head this system. It is very efficient: there are voluntary sports societies in every town and neighbourhood; people pay small contributions that do not affect the family budget. However, since this is a mass organisation, they can maintain skating rinks, small neighbourhood stadiums, places to practice hockey and so on, and they receive membership cards that allow them to visit these facilities for a minimal pay. A large number of people enjoy special benefits.
I would like to remind you that we used to have something very similar in the Soviet Union. We would pay some 30 kopecks out of our pockets once as a membership fee to join the Voluntary Society for Assisting the Army, Aviation and Navy (DOSAAF), or the Ready for Labour and Defence (GTO) system, and the rest was run by the state or the trade unions. We can restore this in a modern way and, thus, make greater progress in promoting mass sports. Meanwhile, mass sports make it possible to select the most promising children and young people for the sport of records. This requires the creation of a whole system of specialised facilities, like boarding schools for young athletes, schools for training top skilled athletes and so on. You know all about this. We need to bring this back and move on. On the whole it is working.
IZ: Mr President, you have just met with the athletes to congratulate them and present state decorations. We all did our utmost – the athletes, us, the entire nation. There was this wonderful spirit: we joined forces, we did it and we are proud. However, medal-winning sports require regular investment and attention on the part of the state. We have Brazil and South Korea ahead of us. How do we maintain this emotional state, this intense attention? What will this cost us and is it at all possible?
VP: I believe that when you ask about cost, you are not referring to money.
IZ: Attention is what matters most.
VP: We will definitely keep that attention. I do not know if we will be able to keep up the achievements at the rate we demonstrated in Sochi, at home. Home games are always better, as we all know – at home even the walls help, as we say, but actually, it is the fans who help most. Therefore, I would like to thank our fans once again not only for supporting our team, but mostly for creating, with some minor exception, a very friendly atmosphere that surrounded the Games’ participants from different countries throughout these two weeks.
It is always more difficult to play away games: some athletes are leaving; others are still gaining momentum and have not yet reached their maximum capacity in sports. Therefore, we may not always keep up with the level demonstrated here, it is not easy at all, but it is obvious that we can and will work on it.
Alexander Lyubimov (RBC TV): Mr President, as I followed the coverage of the Olympics by western media, I had a constant flow of emotion: first, I was taken aback by how they started; then, towards the end my indignation was unbridled, which is not typical of me. I am not a loyalist by nature, but even I was overwhelmed by my patriotic feelings. Why is it so unfair? Is this normal?
VP: This is very good. (Laughter)
AL: I agree, as far as I am concerned.
VP: I can say it was not only you – everyone felt uneasy. This means that our foreign colleagues, the ones who engaged in what you have just described, achieved the exact opposite of what they were aiming for.
There are several things here that I would like to speak of separately. First: all these years we have been working in conditions of criticism, but it was constructive criticism in the first place, very friendly and helpful on the part of the International Olympic Committee right from the start. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to thank – in an informal setting – Mr Killy and Mr Felly, the former and current presidents of the International Olympic Committee, not only for entrusting us with holding the Olympics, but for showing us from the very start which way to go and how to build this program in terms of organisation, planning and even construction. I am sure that without such friendly criticism and support, we would have still managed to do everything, but I doubt whether we would have done it with such quality, because we lack the enormous experience of our friends from the IOC. This was their gift to us.
However, there was, and I am sure there still is another group of critics who have little to do with sports. Their main concern is competition in international politics. Their job is different, and they used the Olympic project to achieve their own goals in their anti-Russia propaganda efforts.
AL: But you took this calmly.
VP: This has nothing to do with sports and I always take this calmly. Do you know why? Because I know exactly what this is, what it is worth, and I know that arguing with them is pointless. Whatever we say, whatever we do to convince people of the opposite, it is impossible because they have a different agenda. I would like to repeat that it is competition in international politics, in a way it is a geopolitical issue. Whenever a strong competitor appears, Russia in this case, there is always someone who does not like this, who starts working against it. However, they fail to understand how deep the changes are in Russian society, changes that have affected its very nature.
In this sense, the Olympics are very important for us, because I believe (and I would like it to be so) that the Games opened the door not only to Russia, but also to the Russian soul, to the hearts of our people. Others could look and see that there is nothing to fear, that we are open for cooperation. This may have even had an effect on those unfriendly critics, though we cannot call them that – they have a different job altogether – but maybe even their fears have diminished. I strongly hope this is the case. And if it is, this is another one of our Olympic victories.