Valery Gazzaev:

Russia is overdue for a football reform

Russia is getting ready to hold two major international athletic competitions - the FIFA Confederations Cup in the summer of 2017 and the FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2018. Valery Gazzaev, Deputy Сhairman of the Duma committee on sports, tourism and youth policy (“A Just Russia”), talked to Capital Ideas about legislative changes in this sphere, how the country plans to respond to the anti-doping scandal, and young people’s athletic prospects in general. Mr. Gazzaev is also a former football player and coach, as well as the former President of FC Alania. As a coach, Mr.Gazzaev has won the most titles in terms of the number of medals and cups in the entire history of Russian football. He was the only Russian coach to lead his team to victory at the UEFA Cup in 2005.

Mr. Gazzaev, how is the State Duma preparing for the FIFA Confederations Cup and the World Cup?

I think you may be misunderstanding… yes, the Russian parliament does have its own football team, but in my opinion we have a long way to go before taking part in the Confederations Cup or the World Cup. We did hold the Parliament Games recently. There was a team from Latvia, Belarus, Serbia, Kazakhstan, and Russia. Russia won, so judging by these results anything can happen. I’m joking, of course.

But on a more serious note, Russian football is in need of reforms, including legislative reforms. We are already working on this. In November 2016, for the first time in the history of modern Russia, we adopted a law that defines the criteria for professional and popular sports, and, most importantly, outlines how they are financed.

In terms of football, we should have started seriously preparing for the World Cup at least seven years ago. And had we adopted the reforms I suggested in 2014, everything would be different. There would have been a revival in Russian football. And there wouldn’t be such a problem with recruiting! When there are no results in junior leagues, there are no additions to the national team either.

In your opinion, what needs to be done?

Reforms are long overdue for Russian football. We need to cut down the number of professional teams. We currently have 105 professional clubs, which is more than anywhere else in the world. We have to stop chasing after quantity and focus on the quality of the game. The Premier League and the First League should be professional, and the rest should be regional teams and semi-professional teams. Our goal is to focus on quality. The First League needs to operate according to a territorial principle. This will allow us to cut down on transportation costs. We need to establish three First Division zones - Center, West, East. We also need to expand the Premiere League to 18 teams. In essence, we need to develop a professional football mechanism and incorporate all regions into a system of professional, junior, popular and amateur football.

Undoubtedly, a lot of problems come back to funding. I believe that professional clubs should only be funded through private investments or through public-private companies and corporations. In order for this to happen, there need to be tax benefits at the legislative level for people who invest in football in Russia.

We also need to improve the quality of football programs for children and young people. This is a nation-wide task for all regions. As the World Cup approaches, it would be great to launch a series of programs across three or four national TV channels dedicated to this event. There will be fabulous stadiums, the best teams in the world are coming - this is a great reason to promote football to children.

What do you think about the campaign to integrate the GTO complex in Russia?

In our country, sports has traditionally served a social and educational function. The Russian sports development strategy aims to involve 40 percent of Russian citizens in sports by 2020. The positive trends we are seeing today give us every reason to expect that this goal will be achieved. Today, 43.5 million people regularly go to the gym, which is almost a third of the country!

During his speech at the “Russia - country of sports” forum, Vladimir Putin said: “Undoubtedly, we are going to welcome those who take on the responsibility of establishing neighborhood teams, developing sports at schools and universities, and holding competitions. We will support athletic organizations and the revival of the GTO movement.”

Last year alone, 584,000 students took the GTO challenge. 11 percent of them completed the challenge with a gold badge. Funds from the state budget and other sources have been used to establish about 2,500 testing centers. In the near future, another 400 centers will open at the municipal level. I bring these numbers up for a reason. In my opinion, they serve as proof that the GTO complex, which was established at the President’s initiative, is becoming a popular trend for young people.

Due to the anti-doping scandal, is it possible that Russia will lose the right to host the World Cup?

There has never been as much prejudice toward our country from international athletic organizations as in 2016. Unfortunately, we have to conclude that sports has become a tool of political pressure. And there is an explanation for this: Russia is becoming one of the leading political players. Our President has a lot of authority and influence both domestically and internationally. Of course this provokes our opposition. Similar processes take place in professional sports. For many people, the accomplishments of our athletes at the international level are like a sharp knife… Plus there is competition, political bias and just regular jealousy. So far as the World Cup is concerned, I don’t think it will come to such a critical situation. I am sure that common sense will prevail in the end. After all, reasonable people understand that without the participation of a country like Russia major international competitions don’t make much sense.

It was recently announced that the State Duma has established an expert committee to analyze the McLaren report. What are some of the preliminary conclusions?

There are a lot of questions when it comes to the notorious report. For example, why does such thorough screening only apply to Russia? Incidentally, this obvious bias causes a lot of indignation among famous foreign athletes and sports figures as well. Doping is an international problem. It is necessary to develop the rules that would apply to everybody who participates in international athletic competitions. This is what our President talked about in his Address to the federal Assembly. From our side, we have already accepted all the relevant documents at the legislative level. Our foreign colleagues, on the other hand, don’t seem to be in a hurry to do so.

McLaren’s second report basically repeats the previous statements. Again, there are no specifics, no proof, just abstract words. Yes, there is a problem and it needs to be addressed. I think that athletes who test positive need to be excluded from competitions and sanctioned. But what do national teams have to do with this? Like a lot of his colleagues, McLaren is using old demagogic tricks, substituting one concept for another.

Within the scope of implementing the President’s Address, are you preparing an initiative to amend the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation in terms of establishing responsibility for falsifying doping tests?

Last year we passed a law that establishes criminal liability for doping. The next step in this regard will be introducing criminal liability for falsifying doping tests for athletes. I want to point out that stricter laws are not the end goal for us. Establishing criminal liability is more of a preventative measure. After all, this means the end of any athlete’s career. New amendments to the Criminal Code will be introduced and considered by the Russian parliament in 2017.

It’s been announced that WADA wants to help Russia develop a system to combat doping. What do you think about this?

I’ve already said what I think of this organization. Right now, it is politically biased and I have doubts about how sincere its intentions are. But we’re open to working with them...

The President’s Address to the Federal Assembly talks about establishing a national program to combat doping, which would allow to tackle this problem at the international level. Moreover, the committee headed by Vitaly Smirnov has established a dialogue with the President of the International Olympic Committee, the director of WADA and other international organizations. Russia is a great athletic power. I think we need to change our communication style with WADA. We shouldn’t be on the defensive. We need to offer our own solutions to the problem.

What do you think about Russian athletes being banned from qualifiers to the 2018 Paralympic Games? What plans and proposals do you and your colleagues have?

The International Paralympic Committee has declined the application for admission of Russian Paralympians to the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang against our concrete guarantees. The formal reason is the anti-doping sanctions. On February 8th, we discussed this situation with the Deputy Minister of Sports of the Russian Federation Pavel Rozhkov during a committee meeting.

I have suggested that we prepare an appeal to the the International Paralympic Committee and invite IPC representatives to Russia so they can see for themselves the work being done with respect to anti-doping legislation and the strict regulations Russian athletes are subjected to. Some of my colleagues aren’t sure they will come. In this case, declining our invitation would show the whole world that there is a political agenda behind this suspicious process. But we have to invite them. After all, Western mass media is very skillfully adding fuel to the fire around this conflict with the Paralympics and Russian sports in general.

In my opinion, any normal person would have no doubt that paralympians are extremely brave people who push themselves to the limit both spiritually and physically. I consider any attempt to prevent them from achieving their dreams to be the height of cynicism and dishonesty.

In your opinion, is there hope that the new US President Donald Trump will put an end to the sanctions imposed on Russian athletes?

In my opinion, we’ve been paying too much attention to the new US president lately. Of course I greatly respect the choice of the people in the US, but I think that Russia and our leader have enough international authority and opportunities to look after our own national interests. If Donald Trump puts an end to this campaign of demagogic lies and political blackmail, that will be great. But I wouldn’t advise anybody to count on it. Russia has proven several times that our domestic and foreign policy is independent. Yes, we are ready for a constructive dialogue regarding the most pressing issues of today.

Are you preparing initiatives to guarantee safety during athletic events?

Recently the State Duma adopted in the first reading a draft federal law No. 48959-7 "On Amendments to the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses."

In order to avoid misunderstandings in the future, I’ll tell you what it says verbatim:  to establish increased administrative responsibility if the violation of the rules of conduct in official sports competitions is ill-mannered. These violations include offenses that pose a threat to the violator’s own safety, life, health or the safety, life, health of others who are at the venue of the official sports competition or on the adjacent territory. Also, violations that result in the delay or termination of a sports event will be included here.

Penalties: fine of up to 20,000 rubles or administrative arrest up to 15 days with the imposition of a ban on visiting venues of official sports competitions of up to 7 years. If the ban is violated, the fine will be raised to 50,000 rubles or an administrative arrest of up to 15 days will be applied.

In cases where a gross or repeated violation of the rules of conduct at an official sports event is committed by foreign citizens or stateless persons, it is proposed to establish a fine of up to 20,000 rubles with the possibility of administrative expulsion from the Russian Federation. In this case, the expulsion measure can be replaced by the court with an administrative ban on attending sports competitions for up to 7 years.

In my opinion, the adoption of this legislative act is especially important on the eve of the 2018 World Cup and the 2017 Confederations Cup. Major events like these will attract fans from all over the world, and it is our obligation to ensure an appropriate level of safety during the competition.

You recently submitted a bill to establish criminal responsibility for desecrating the coat of arms and flag of the subjects of the Russian Federation on par with the state coat of arms and flag to the State Duma. What is happening with this bill?

I wouldn’t focus on so-called “football fans” alone. The measures I’ve proposed are much wider in scope.

Our country is a multinational state and the people who live here belong to 130 different nationalities. Russia’s history, pride and glory is a history of different lands coming together and the peaceful coexistence of different nations, cultures and languages. The national symbols of all peoples should be protected by Russian law equally.

The law that is in effect now protects the flag and coat of arms of the Russian Federation. It protects the honor and historical dignity of our homeland, which is embodied in our country’s symbols. At the same time, symbols of the subjects of the Russian Federation aren’t afforded the same level of protection. When modern-day vandals cynically desecrate the flag of some region in front of a camera, tearing it in half, stomping on it, setting it on fire and using it for their propaganda purposes, the most they have to fear is being accused of petty hooliganism, violation of public order and fire safety regulations. Wouldn’t you agree that this a shortcoming of the current legislation?

Many subjects of the Russian Federation have established in their legislation on administrative offenses responsibility for desecrating official symbols of the region - insulting, cynical inscriptions, destruction or use of the emblem or flag in a way that implies mockery. At the same time, it is clear that these measures are not enough. In my opinion, only the Criminal Code is a reliable guarantee of adequate protection against encroachments on sacred symbols that represent home for some citizens. In addition, it is only possible to stop such actions if they are committed in the territory of another RF subject through federal law.

I’m proposing to establish legal protection of regional symbols along with administrative responsibility for desecrating the national symbols of Russia. And, in my opinion, this is logical and fair.

In general, my proposals were approved by most colleagues. Although I will admit there were objections. I will take into account all sensible remarks

What is your forecast for the 2017 Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup?

I can say that experience with holding large-scale athletic competitions such as the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi gives us confidence that all of the necessary infrastructure will be prepared at the proper level. The organizational part also doesn’t cause any concerns. And I really hope that our national team will resolve its internal issues and play a great game. A World Cup at home gives us the opportunity to demonstrate to the whole world that Russia is a great athletic power! We simply don’t have the right to miss this chance!



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