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Russia’s Failure in the Olympic Games


The authorities are looking for scapegoats for failure of the Russian team at the Olympics, but what is going on in sports is only an example of what is going on in other spheres of life – neoliberalism yields the same results no matter where it is applied.

The failure of the Russian team in the Vancouver Olympic Games would not have become a serious problem, if the Russian authorities had not spoken about the sports in its propaganda for many years. The successes of the Russian football and hockey players were presented as a proof that Russia requires the great power status in sports, if not in world politics and economy.

As in many other cases, the current Russian authorities’ ambitions are based on the Soviet achievements, but the policy, which they follow, differs from the Soviet policy radically.

Both the Soviet Union and the modern Russia have emphasized the state’s supporting the sports, but the governments’ efforts were made in completely different directions. In the USSR the mass sports development resulted in an “Olympic reserve” that generated the world champions. This was expected to solve not only the sporting problems, but also such problems as the organization of the youth leisure activities, the improved population’s health and, it must be admitted, this was connected with military training and the propaganda of the regime’s success (the latter continues to exist in Russia today, but it is not very convincing).

Although in all the Soviet Union the expenses for sporting schools, stadia and coaches were huge, the direct expenses for training a champion were relatively small. Of course, the Soviet system sometimes malfunctioned, but, on the whole, it made the Soviet Union an indisputable leader of the world sports. While some countries were stronger than the Soviet Union in specific sports, few states could beat the USSR in the Olympic Games when the total number of medals was counted. But even if some states managed to do that, in many cases those were the states that borrowed and developed the mass sports system that was analogous to the Soviet one, for example Eastern Germany.

There was no need to invite foreign stars and coaches, the Soviet schools and traditions were formed from below, so, since the 1980s the foreign countries have tried to hire the Soviet and Russian athletes and coaches. Even many foreign winners of the Vancouver Olympic Games, which were held almost twenty years later after the collapse of the Soviet Union, were trained by the Russian coaches. The fact that the Soviet sports system was based on mobilizing domestic resources not only made it cheaper and more homogeneous, but also favoured the country’s successes in the Olympics because there only the citizens of each specific country were allowed to participate under its flag. True, in recent years hardly this rule has been observed, the foreign athletes are frequently engaged by Russia, as well as there are Russians playing for foreign teams (coaches should only arrange about issuing national passports to foreign sportsmen whom Russia needs).

After the Soviet Union disintegration Russia’s sporting policy was subordinated to the same logic of neoliberalism as other spheres. The government continued to invest money in the sports, but the investments were spent to invite the stars for the football clubs, foreign coaches and to finance Russian “promising” masters, who were expected to show good performances, rather than to support the mass sports. The investments were supposed to be repaid by a specific result that could be demonstrated immediately and that has a fixed market price (for example, a much touted athlete can be “resold” advantageously). It was decided to form the sporting elite, and the commercial community of officials and private investors was formed there. At first, this policy might rest on the human, material and creative resources collected in the Soviet period. Like in other cases, those resources were used commercially, so the initial base, which had made it possible to produce them, was undermined and exhausted. But this did not happen immediately. It took about twenty years the resources of the Soviet sporting system to be exhausted. The Russian teams became much less successful. Neither engagements of foreign coaches, nor great investments, which are drawn by the sporting elite, help.

The government is still ready to finance the “stars” who earn much more money than their Soviet predecessors did. But how to find the future champions? And the bottom line is when new people do not come “from below”, a personnel mistake plays a more important role. In the Soviet period, when the country had mass sports, one could say that “no man is indispensable”. Today in Russia there is a severe personnel shortage both in the politics and in the sports. If a lot of money is invested in an athlete who falls short of the investors’ expectations, this loss is irreplaceable, as not only money but also time is of importance here. When we have the sporting personnel shortage, the new athletes have to be nurtured with investing much money in them and with the risks of making mistakes. The athletes nurturing is so expensive now (the money are spent on sportsmen as well as on businessmen and officials) that even the Russian government cannot afford that.

It goes without saying, the investments and invitation of foreign athletes are sometimes effective. This way, the football ream “Rubin” in the city of Kazan was turned into the world team. But this does not change the general tendency. And if “Rubin” is not financed any more, all those achievements will vanish within several weeks. Meanwhile, the Soviet epoch achievements had been significant for twenty years.

What is going on in Russia’s sports is typical for other spheres of life. Neoliberalism yields the same results no matter where it is applied, and the present scholarship and education crisis, the public health decline and the bad situation with the Russian filmmaking were caused by the same policy.

The Vancouver Olympic Games showed the real situation in all its glory. The Russian authorities are seeking the guilty people to punish them publicly. Russian Premier Vladimir Putin has promised to check how the Olympic Games expenses were used. This is unlikely to change anything, as the problem here is in the state system rather than in the officials.

Source: Eurasian Home

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