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30 August, 2012  ▪  Valeria Burlakova

Money Games

Hundreds of millions of hryvnias allocated from the state budget to prepare for the 2012 Olympics, sometimes proved “too little” even for drinking water or good gear. As for the athletes themselves, there has been inefficient use of money.

Ukrainians earned 20 medals at the 30th 2012 Olympics in London, putting the country's Olympic team in 14th place out of 204 participating nations. For a country that seems to think about its sports programmes only in the run-up to an election, this is a decent result. Still, compared to previous summer Olympics, these Games showed a clear drop in mastery.

MORE MONEY, FEWER MEDALS

The authorities are trying to make excuses after having planned to claim a successful result in the Olympics as one of their own achievements. Nevertheless, they do not appear very persuasive. “Good for us”, Ukrainian Youth and Sports officials said of the Games, “we are ahead of Spain, Canada and other countries with much better developed sports and economies”. “Preparations for the 2012 Olympics were fully financed,” these officials report. “This year UAH 72.172mn was allocated for the final stage of preparation for Ukraine’s participation in the London Olympics". Just UAH 37.849mn was allocated for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

In fact, it must be said that many Ukrainian athletes paid for their own preparation, some finding sponsors among businessmen and politicians. For example, the medals won by weightlifters and boxers are said to be more or less due to generous patrons.

“Ukrainian boxers have never showed better results at the Olympic Games (Ukrainian men’s national team has taken the highest place of the entire Ukrainian team, having won five medals, including two gold, one silver and two bronze ones. – Editor).” Ukrainian world boxing champion, professional boxer and coach Andriy Synepupov said. Synepupov ended his amateur career in 1990 and found professional boxing to be a very different sport with another level of budgeting and financing. At the same time, he said today's amateurs also have good training bases and gear. “This can be proved by the boys' achievements and the fact that they are saying that everything is okay”, he added, “If things were not okay, they would switch to professional sport. Since they are not switching, everything must be fine. Also, former boxers and even people who never boxed but are simply passionate about the sport often volunteer as sponsors".

“The effect of the Klitschko brothers” is a special Ukrainian term for this. More money is invested in popular boxing, and consequently, it dominates over other Olympic sports. Financing of other sports is dropping based on the principal of “no results – no money”, as the new Olympic champion Yuriy Cheban (canoe-single, 200 m)  remarked.

Indeed, there are many sports fans ready to support boxers and other Olympic competitors, but “charity” of this sort is often made for personal promotion and not out of kindness. Such PR is necessary for both entrepreneurs and politicians. The latter need it badly now, just before the elections. So it is of no surprise that “Olympic Passions”, a TV program by popular anchorman Savik Shuster, was conducted in Russian and included political “product placement”. The names of some powerful representatives whose financial support helped a certain athlete win a medal, were mentioned in the program sometimes for no apparent reason at all.

Things like this often approach the boundaries of the absurd. For example, press secretary for Liudmyla Yosypenko, who lost her bronze medal in heptathlon due to protests from the German team, explained to The Ukrainian Week that should one want an interview with the athlete, one must talk about “her patrons” among other things.

CONCENTRATION CAMP FOR OLYMPIC SPORTSMEN

Though many athletes gained from sponsorships, most Ukrainian Olympians still had to count on state support. And yet some of them never received it, despite declarations about the state allocating a total of UAH 560mn for athlete preparation ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

Some Ukrainian delegations lacked even the bare essentials and many spoke openly of their trials before the Olympics. For instance, the athletes’ training base near Kyiv not only lacked air conditioning, elementary sleeping accommodations (athletes had to buy their own mattresses to avoid backaches), clean toilets, necessary sports gear and so on, but also water and food. “They gave us half a litre of water a day, and it was not the best water. When we asked where the water was, they said we should wait… But we were not asking for lobster, we’re asking for water!” athlete Yelyzaveta Bryzgina said, expressing her indignation before the Games.

Athletes were also fed as modestly as possible. “I’d like to have better conditions and better food, at least before the Olympics, especially in the cafeteria”, World and Europe triple jump champion Olha Solodukha told television journalists. Yet, despite her hardships she still won a bronze medal in London.

The state allocated UAH 205 a day per one Olympic participant for food and more than a few of the athletes think some money was simply stolen. “Money allocated for athletes is used inefficiently”, 2000 Olympic Gold swimmer Denys Sylantiev told The Ukrainian Week, “There should be more thorough control over the use of money”.

Sylantiev also said that many Ukrainian Olympians do not have the bare essentials for training. “It is a general problem, in all regions of the country. Not only swimmers lack training bases. For instance, track and field athletes lack a covered stadium with proper conditions”. Gymnasts have problems, too. “I was really sorry for them, when watching their performances,” Denys said. “They are modest, patient and industrious. But they don’t have the bare essentials for training”.

Currently there is also another problem – there is no new generation to be raised as future Olympic champions. “Sports is not popular in our country, and the authorities do not care about popularizing it,” Sylantiev says. “It is more difficult to choose a sportsman out of ten, than the best out of a thousand. There is no effective competition in Ukraine.”

State authorities only remember sportsmen, he said, when they need them for PR, and that is when they suddenly start talking about prize money for medals. Those athletes who do not win a medal get practically no material compensation.

“Twelve years ago our swimmers who participated in the Olympic Games got nothing but one suit per athlete. These Ukrainians felt ashamed,” Sylantiev. “This year it was even worse. The swimmers paid for their own suits, because the ones provided by the state were the wrong size or torn. One of them told me it was impossible for him to swim in the suit he received and all of his training proved to be of no use at all”.

Unlike in previous Games, Ukrainian swimmers did not win any Olympic medals in 2012.


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