Sports: Not Just Fun and Games! Interview with Dmitri Svishchov
Since the announcement that Sochi was selected to host the 2014 Winter Games, the subject of Russian athletics has come to the fore. The outlook for Russian winter sports, in particular, is rosy, from the construction of new sports complexes to the nurturing of new talent. In short, the government has big plans for the Russian sports scene, and at the helm are people like State Duma Deputy Dmitri Svishchov. In addition to serving as deputy chair of the Duma’s Committee on Sport and Physical Culture, Dmitri Alexandrovich is also vice president of the Downhill Skiing and Snowboard Federation of Russia. A graduate of the Russian Government’s Financial Academy, Mr. Svishchov has some concerns about the 2014 Games. He took some time out of his schedule to speak with Passport.
Text Mary Bennett
Before you were elected to the Duma, you were a businessman, and you also founded an amateur downhill ski club. What made you want to become a Duma deputy?
Being a deputy is an enormous responsibility and a challenge. At 38, I think it’s too early to stop moving forward. There are a lot of things to be done, and I feel I have the energy and enthusiasm to do them.
Why the Committee on Sport and Physical Culture?
I have been an athlete my entire life, and I’ve been a professional skier. I really want to improve the current situation in Russia with physical culture, especially as we stand at the threshold of the 2014 Olympic Games. Today there are about 120 downhill skiing areas in Russia, which can meet only about 10 percent of potential demand. In 1999 we created the New League Club to support the Russian national team, and that was just the first step. Now we have ice-skating rinks open to everyone, we started a school for children at Meteor Stadium, which is run by former skating world champion Maria Butyrskaya. Recently the Federation held the World Cup for Freestyle on Moscow’s Sparrow Hills.
What do you see as the next steps toward increasing the popularity of sports in Russia?
It is a long and thorny path. First, it is a question of increasing public awareness of the health benefits of sports. In Soviet times, we accomplished a lot in this respect – we had a robust culture of mass sport then. But when we lost the propaganda, the public lost its appreciation for the value of participating in sports. We have made progress in the last several years, and these positive steps need to be supported by legislative measures such as passing the Law on Physical Culture and Sport, which promote the development of sports programs in schools, among other things. The younger generation is a high priority in this task. Legislation in other areas – such as land use and labor – is also important to the achievement of our goal – to help promote sports in the workplace, to construct athletic facilities.
And you have already started to make progress toward implementation of these plans. Can you talk about the Sheregesh complex?
In 2005, in the Shoria Mountains in the southern Altai, the Federation of Downhill Skiing and Snowboard of Russia, along with a number of large investors, broke ground on Sheregesh, a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment complex. The plan is for the complex to serve as the Russian team’s training facility for the 2014 Games. Now the sports part is finished and in March hosted an international skiing competition, the Cup of Two Presidents. The reference is to the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan, which organized the event, but skiers from all over the world were invited to participate. The competition will be good practice for our local talent.
Do you think you’ll ever get bored with politics and working to promote Russian sports?
I know from experience that you should never say never, but I don’t think so. If I do, though, I think I will always have thousands of other things to keep me busy.