FACE TO FACE

Nikolay Gulyayev:

We are ready for a football festival

Head of the Moscow Department of Sports and Tourism answered our questions in an exclusive interview with Capital Ideas.

These days, it seems Olympic champion Nikolay Gulyayev needs just as much stamina as he did back when he was winning gold medals for speed skating. And no wonder. The Moscow Department of Sports and Tourism, which he became in charge of at the end of the last year, is coordinating all programs related to the Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup next year. Mr. Gulyayev is difficult to catch in his office: he is always busy with meetings and other errands. We met him at the Chertanovo football school, which was hosting an event in honor of 100 days before the opening of the Confederations Cup. After getting out of the car, the head of the department immediately headed toward the football field, where young football players were practicing. He joined them with ease, and even managed to shoot at goal!

Mr. Gulyayev, it seems like you’re no stranger to football.

Much like a lot of other kinds of sport. I think that the head of this type of department needs to set a personal example in order to motivate people to exercise and play sports.

You’re going to tell me that you do your morning exercises too...

Yes, I do, but an abridged version, since my work doesn’t allow me to spend much time on it. Without exercise it would be tough to stay in shape, which I need to stay in good health and handle all of the issues the department needs to resolve before the upcoming events.

Moscow isn’t new to hosting important international competitions, but the FIFA World Cup is special. Otherwise, the city government would not have created the special department that you’re in charge of, right?

I’ll clarify right away: the department wasn’t created specifically for the World Cup. The government simply added “Tourism” to the existing Department of Physical Education and Sports. As stated in the order issued by Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin, this was done in order to effectively prepare for and conduct different international competitions, including the Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup. Right now, this is one of our priorities. We are in charge of coordinating all programs related to the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, and there are a lot of them: transportation, safety and so on.

The “Sport Moskvy” program has not been cancelled, and we continue to work on it every day. In other words, we continue to work on everything we used to work on before. This includes the development and promotion of physical education and sports in Moscow, as well as making the Russian capital more appealing for tourists with the goal of increasing the number of travellers coming to Moscow.

Combining sports and tourism is a sound decision. They really do go hand in hand.

Of course. Fans are tourists. When fans travel to a foreign country for a game, they visit the local attractions, go to museums, and visit cafes and restaurants. By the way, some people go to games for the sole purpose of getting to know a new country and being part of the festive atmosphere. It’s a truly unforgettable experience. Anybody who plans on coming to Moscow will get to experience this amazing atmosphere to the fullest.

How many fans are you expecting to come to Moscow for the World Cup?

I think that about a million guests will visit Moscow over the course of that month.

What worries you the most right now?

To be honest, there is nothing specific that I am constantly worried about. There isn’t anything that’s troubling me. We’re doing everything according to our schedule, and everything is going as planned. Of course, like with any other project, not everything goes smoothly. But trust me, these are minor technical challenges. Every day, as we overcome them, we are confidently moving toward our final goal - successfully hosting an international football festival.

Aside from Moscow, the matches will be taking place in several other Russian cities. Is there any competition between cities, are they trying to one-up each other in terms of being the best hosts?

I’ll put it this way: we will be hosting the most important matches. The Russian capital will be hosting the opening match and the final.

In your opinion, have the negative attitudes of Western countries toward Russia impacted the World Cup at all?

I don’t think so. I’ll give you an example. A record number of tourists visited Moscow over the Christmas holidays (from the middle of December to the middle of January), including tourists from abroad. So even if there is somebody in the West trying to say negative things about us, we’re saying: “Guys, our doors are open! Come and see everything for yourself!”. According to international assessments, by the way, Moscow is one of the safest capitals in the world, not to mention it’s a clean and beautiful city.

You probably know that England recently aired a documentary where fans are warned to be careful with Russians...

That’s not right. But anyway, they say all kinds of stuff about us in the West! Up until recently, they thought there were bears roaming our streets here! So we’re telling everybody: “Don’t believe what they say in newspapers and show on television about Russia! Come visit us and figure things out for yourself!”. Moreover, I know for certain that those who have visited Moscow will tell their friends how great it is here. After all, Moscow is more than just the Red Square and the Kremlin. Recall how we hosted the Champions League final in Moscow a few years ago, which had two English teams with fairly aggressive fans. Back then people also doubted whether or not Russia could host a match like this. But we did it, and everything went well.

Are you drawing on international experience during your preparations for the Confederations Cup and the World Cup?

Of course. Although compared to other cities Moscow has a lot of experience in hosting large-scale international athletic and cultural events. Still, it would be foolish to turn a blind eye on things that have worked well for others. We went to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil for this purpose, to see what works and apply it here.

So fifteen months before the start of the World Cup, you are one hundred percent confident?

I am sure that Moscow will host a real football festival, and it will be organized in a superb way. We have everything to make this happen: the city and sports infrastructure that work impeccably, that come together as a single unit. When I say “athletic infrastructure,” I mean the two new stadiums - the Luzhniki Olympic Complex and Spartak.

And last question: who will be playing at the World Cup final?

Those who deserve it most! (Smiles)

 

CAPITAL IDEAS

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