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‘In Contemporary History, World Championships and Olympic Games Were Canceled Only During World Wars’

‘In Contemporary History, World Championships and Olympic Games Were Canceled Only During World Wars’

© Andrey Goryachev/ HSE University

At the 7th International Research and Practical Conference ‘Sports Management in the Face of Uncertainty’, organized by HSE University, industry and government representatives discussed the impact of the pandemic on the sports industry, its future, and the problem of doping.

The conference ‘Sports Management in the Face of Uncertainty’ took place on March 25 in a mixed format: most of the participants joined the conference remotely, while the organizers and some of the speakers convened on site at HSE University. Event Chair Dmitry Kuznetsov, tenured professor and director of the HSE Higher School of Law and Administration, noted that the conference was attended by 400 participants from 20 countries.

Dmitry Kuznetsov
© HSE University

Elena Istyagina-Eliseeva, academic supervisor of the HSE Institute of Sports Management and Law and member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, opened the first panel discussion dedicated to ‘Global Changes in Sports Amid a Pandemic’. She emphasized that as the world changes, the sports industry and common exercise practices change, too. Because of the pandemic, the system that had been built over decades collapsed, and sports infrastructure became unavailable to customers. Participants of the discussion on the future of sports were: Alexey Sorokin, head of UEFA EURO 2020 organizing committee in Russia and member of FIFA Council; Svetlana Zhurova, Deputy of the State Duma or Russia and Olympic champion; Andrey Selsky, Deputy Minister of Sports of Russia; Andrey Vlasov, technical director of Russian Football Union and coordinator of CIES in Russia; Jose Carlos Loaiza, representative of the LaLiga Global Network in Russia and Belarus; and other experts and sports industry representatives.

Alexey Sorokin reminded the audience that last year, in early March, at a similar conference at HSE University, they celebrated 100 days until the start of the 2020 Euro football championship, and then, nobody could foresee the scale of the pandemic and cancellation of the event. ‘As far as we can remember in contemporary history, world championships and Olympic games were canceled only during world wars. We are in the middle of a huge event, which will leave a lasting imprint on history for a long time,’ he emphasized, speaking about the impact of the corona crisis on the sports industry.

Svetlana Zhurova
© Andrey Goryachev/ HSE University

Many people in Russia don’t understand a sports industry without state participation, said Svetlana Zhurova, adding that in many Russian regions, people are not used to paying for athletic activities. The state is expected to help sports organizations, including fitness clubs. Particularly, legislators are now working on a law to provide tax deductions on costs spent on sports.

The panel discussion ‘Developing a New Anti-doping Strategy. Analysis of Factors Affecting the Purity of Sports in the Global World’ addressed one of the most pressing problems in contemporary sports – doping. The key presentation was made by Denis Oswald, chair of the Disciplinary Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and director of the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES). Speaking about doping in Russia, he underscored the fact that the question is not motivated politically but by a desire to get to the bottom of it.

Our attitude towards doping must be univocal: this is a form of fraud, deceit, and its use is unacceptable

When information appeared in 2014 that Russian athletes use doping, investigations were initiated to determine whether it was true. The IOC launched a programme of routine drug testing of athletes. Modern, more sensitive equipment allowed regulators to get different results than 8-10 years ago. Out of 100 samples that returned positive tests, 41 belonged to athletes from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Denis Oswald provided detail about the investigation that was followed by the dramatic events that led to cancellation of Russia’s medals and the prohibition of its state symbols at large international competitions. The main conclusion of the commission headed by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren was that Russia had an institutionalized doping system.

Sergey Altukhov, moderator of the panel discussion and director of the HSE Higher School of Law and Administration Institute of Sports Management and Law, explained the keen attention to Prof. Oswald’s information with the fact that for six seasons now, Russian athletes have suffered persecution and this is one of the reasons that the problem of doping control is highly relevant. He said that the discussions as part of the conference are humanitarian, and their main goal is to understand what is happening and how this can be dealt with.

Mikhail Bukhanov
© Andrey Goryachev/ HSE University

There are different approaches to the problem. Acting CEO of RUSADA Mikhail Bukhanov believes that anti-doping ethics and responsibility must regulate purity in sports. Wolfgang Maennig, professor of economics at Hamburg University and 1988 Olympic champion in rowing, said that expert studies carried out in 2011 demonstrated that the risk of being caught using prohibited substances in sports was only 2%. This probability is so low that it hardly stops anyone. Speaking metaphorically, you can’t put a policeman at every step of the way, the professor said, so that’s why economic measures should be implemented, rather than repressive: not fines, but, for example, a retirement bonus for those who haven’t been caught with doping during their career.

The conference participants also addressed the important question of therapeutic exceptions. Yelena Välbe, president of the Russian Cross-Country Ski Association and multiple Olympic champion, has recently brought the issue under new public scrutiny, moderator Sergey Altukhov reminded the audience.

Alexandr Chebotarev, academic supervisor of the HSE Master’s programme in International and National Sports Law, spoke as a strong opponent of this policy. It’s necessary to foster a culture of doping non-consumption, and this culture must include the situation with legitimate use of special drugs.

Alexandr Chebotarev
© Andrey Goryachev/ HSE University

Alexandr Chebotarev gave an example of the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when the U.S. team asked for and was granted 398 exceptions, Italy – 372, France – 207, Australia – 133, and Russia – 15. As comparative data shows, Mr. Chebotarev said, this also impacts the number of medals. He believes, this issue must be discussed publicly.

At the end of the day, it is up to the audience to decide – whether they are willing to watch competitions with athletes who use special substances

Recently, a collective monograph Alternative Ways of Countering Doping in Sports has been published at HSE University. Dmitry Kuznetsov presented it at the conference. The volume contains chapters by 12 international experts and is co-edited by Sergey Altukhov and Wladimir Andreff, Professor Emeritus at the University Paris Pantheon Sorbonne and president of the Observatory of the Sports Economy of the French Ministry of Sports.

So, who wins? Doping or sports? Are sports going to become unattractive for the young people after such a transformation? Dmitry Kuznetsov asked these questions to Sergey Altukhov. Doping is developing in a fast and complicated manner, while the conservative sports industry responds slowly. Meanwhile, we’ll have to live with this phenomenon, as in a family with a drug addict, Sergey Altukhov believes. Doping is a disease, he admitted, but ‘we won’t stand by’. We have to foster a negative attitude to it in people from a young age.

Sergey Altukhov
© Andrey Goryachev/ HSE University

In addition, Sergey Altukhov presented interim results of the study ‘Analysis of the practice of violations and the need to switch to rational anti-doping strategies in certain sports’. Jaime Blanco, representative of La Liga administration, spoke about the experience of Spanish football surviving the corona crisis. The conference also included sessions such as ‘Managing Sports Organizations and Projects During a Pandemic’, ‘The Potential of Sports Law In The Face of Changes’, ‘Management of Sports Media Space In The Post-Pandemic World’, as well as a graduation ceremony of the Executive Programme in Sports Management.

The conference materials are available here.

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