Vladimir Leonov: ''If Zagitova wants to compete for Tatarstan, we are ready to talk''

The sports minister’s year-end press conference

The Tatarstan sports minister's press conference, which already became a tradition, turned out more intense than usual. You bet, Kazan (among other cities) hosted the best FIFA WC in history. In addition, the Tatarstan capital hosted tens of other international and domestic events. Our correspondent visited Vladimir Leonov's press conference and knew what new sports venues were planned to be built in Tatarstan, why international sports federations started to look at the republic in another way and if Zagitova could return to her native region. Realnoe Vremya tells the details.

''From a perspective of the mass media, it was certainly the number one WC, even better than Olympics''

Vladimir Leonov started his speech with the biggest event Kazan has hosted in its history, the FIFA WC, of course.

''We got a worldwide recognition of the sports and sports-related community. Many people who visited Kazan during the WC noted it was one of the most interesting cities. Not only in sports infrastructure and service but as a location and city, in general.

''You perfectly know there was much scepticism in the foreign press about how Russia would handle it, how it would organise the entrance system, logistics, there were many fears in terms of security. But in the end, we heard a full confession from Gianni Infantino (Editor's Note: FIFA president). He recognised the WC in our country was at the highest level, he recognised it was the best in the WC history,'' the minister claimed.

Leonov also noted the job of local as well as federal mass media. According to the minister, any novelties Russian organisers offered to the guests during the WC would mean nothing without good coverage in the media.

Gianni Infantino recognised it was the best in the WC history. Photo: Maksim Platonov

''We wanted to ''reboot'' the external outlook on our country and the regions,'' Leonov went on. ''In my subjective opinion, we did it. Moreover, I can say without flattering thanks to our media. And as the practice showed, nothing cooler than the WC has been invented. From a perspective of the mass media, it was certainly the number one WC, even better than Olympics,'' the sports minister made a conclusion.

''What medallists did at the Olympics is something heroic''

In addition, Leonov drew a conclusion of the performance of Tatarstan athletes at the Winter Olympics in Korea and admitted it was very successful.

''Our athletes showed who they are. We managed to bring plenty of medals for the first time in history,'' he said. ''Of course, it's not gold, but our Olympians' awards please me as an athlete. Six athletes represented Tatarstan, they brought four medals. The most important thing is that heroic deeds were done there. For instance, what Marta [Zaynullina] did at the Paralympics is something heroic. Marta won three medals. Well done!''

The minister supposes that PyeongChang showed the first fruits of the job done in Tatarstan in the last years. ''It has been asked many times where our Olympians were because so many venues have been built. This year showed it is a rare case. And it's not expertise and merit of even the minister but the group of athletes and coaches. It's the whole system of preparation, there are a lot of interactions there,'' Leonov said.

''If Zagitova has a desire to compete for Tatarstan, we will talk''

However, Realnoe Vremya's correspondent couldn't help but ask about the only gold medallist of PyeongChang born in Tatarstan who competes for another region.

Could you tell if there are prerequisites for a comeback of Alina Zagitova to the Tatarstan team who competes for Udmurtia now?

''Alina is an amazing athlete, an Olympic champion who won the second gold for Russia at the Games almost on her own. There was a lot of different information about her comeback. If she has a desire to come to Tatarstan and compete for our republic, as she is a young girl, this includes her family too, we have the same opinion as well as the president of the republic, we are ready to talk, discuss and so on. If there is no such a desire, why shift? If there is a desire, we can take a sit and start talks. Moreover, there are prerequisites for it because she is Tatar, her roots are here, she began her career here. So this issue depends on the desire of the other side,'' Leonov concluded.

Question about Zagitova competing for Tatarstan: ''This issue depends on the desire of the other side,'' Leonov concluded. Photo: vk.com/eteritutberidze

''The Russian Figure Skating Federation scheduled Russian championships years beforehand. If we are given some of the years, we will host it a bit better''

In continuation of the topic of figure skating, the functionary said Tatarstan was ready to not only host a Russian figure skating championship but also build a new palace for it. The problem is that the competitions are scheduled ten years beforehand.

''Now we're making the design and looking for a site to build the figure skating centre. The project isn't cheap. In any case, we will build it in the next years. Kazan has many sports. But we want to develop figure skating too, and there is such a request. If last year we discussed hosting the Russian championship in Kazan through our federation, they already have quite a big full contract through 2028, if I am not mistaken. We won't brag but we've already claimed if we are given some of the years, we will host it a bit better. Then it's up to them (the Russian Figure Skating Federation) to discuss the issue with the regions they already came to an agreement with.''

''If five years ago we knocked on doors of different international organisations, now they ask to come here''

Vladimir Leonov also reported on a really serious number of sports events Tatarstan hosts more often year after year.

''This year we continued hosting sports events in Kazan, which we began several years ago. If we look at our schedule, we host over 800 events every year, that's to say, almost three events a day. It's not only in Kazan but also in municipalities.

Earlier, some five years ago, when we hosted the Universiade, we reached out to everyone ourselves, looked for events, knocked on doors of different international organisations. Now, even despite the doping scandals in the country, we already have relations established with many international federations who meet Kazan halfway. And today we are open to hosting big international events.

Today Kazan and Tatarstan are widely known on the world sports map. And the republic's capital is in the top cities where almost all kind of events can be held. Now we try to ''catch'' winter sports. We're talking about hockey and figure skating. So we will focus not only on summer sports in the future,'' the minister promised.

''We hosted air races – the ratings are gorgeous in terms of promotion. It's excellent ratings and great views of Kazan,'' the sports minister enumerated. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Among other events, Leonov pointed out the RedBull Air Race stage and beach competitions 2018 was full of.

''We hosted air races – the ratings are gorgeous in terms of promotion. It's excellent ratings and great views of Kazan,'' the sports minister enumerated. ''We also held a beach handball world championships, which is a very interesting sport. In general, we set a task for the future – to focus on the development of beach sports. If we have a preparation centre, it will be possible to get ready for competitions all year round. We held a volleyball Final Four [Champions League], our legendary, dare I say it, club [Zenit-Kazan] won the cup at home.

We traditionally hosted the Diving World Series. In general, as I already said, we are very friendly with FINA after the FINA World Championships. The World Swimming Cup has moved here this season – we signed a contract for three years. This stage moved from Moscow because Olympiysky closes for repair there. Next year will host the Russian Synchronised Swimming Championship. We will also hold a world series. Russia loves this sport, Kazan loves it too. We have both victories and cups. The task now is to win in an international competition.''

Besides these competitions, he noted the upcoming European triathlon and taekwondo championships and rhythmic gymnastics world cup, which became traditional for Kazan, and other tournaments.

Sintez had an upgrade, while Rubin completed the first part of the season well despite difficulties

The Tatarstan sports minister also mentioned successes of Tatarstan professional teams. If almost every resident of Tatarstan knows about the victory of Ak Bars at the Gagarin Cup, he had to tell about the championship of such teams as Dinamo-GAP (field hockey, women). KAMAZ-Master team from Chelny brought the next titles from Dakar, both Dinamo Kazan hockey teams distinguished themselves.

''We also should mention Sintez, which also had a sort of upgrade this year. We created a combination of water sports clubs there,'' Leonov kept enumerating successes of Tatarstan teams. ''Rubin completed the first part of the season well. Thanks to Mr Berdyev and officials of the club for reaching the sixth position in the tough times. We'll see what will happen in the second half of the season,'' the minister said.

''Sintez also had a sort of upgrade this year. We created a combination of water sports clubs there,'' Leonov noted. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

''Why not host the second FINA world championships in Kazan in 10 years after the first one?''

But Realnoe Vremya's correspondent couldn't go without clarifying information that Kazan could host FINA world championships again, which has recently leaked.

''Now it's a hypothetical question. Applications to host the aquatics championships in 2025 and 2027 are opening today. And we thought, why not host it in Tatarstan again in 10 years? But it's just a draft now. This issue hasn't been discussed at the top yet, we can't host such events on our own. We will probably go back to these issues early next year,'' Vladimir Leonov ended the press conference.

By Erik Dobrolyubov

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