The council members discussed developing hockey in Russia, the upcoming 2016 World Ice Hockey Championships in Moscow and preparation of the national team for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues. I am glad to welcome you.
I would like to begin by reminding you of the decision we made in June 2015 to discuss two issues at subsequent meetings of the Council for the Development of Physical Culture and Sport – football and hockey, two of the most popular sports in Russia, the world championships of which we will host. The ice hockey championships will be held this year, and the football championships in 2018.
We discussed football at our previous meeting. Today we will talk about hockey, which is rightfully considered a national sport in Russia. Although hockey was not invented in Russia, its popularity and Russians’ love of hockey have made it a national sport.
This is a good opportunity to congratulate the Metallurg Magnitogorsk Hockey Club, which won its second KHL Gagarin Cup the other day. Both Metallurg and the rival team, CSKA, played emotional, impressive and unpredictable hockey during the finals, the kind of hockey millions of fans love.
In congratulating Metallurg, I would also like to thank the CSKA hockey players. They have truly given it their all, really pleased hockey fans with their playing, which was brilliant and robust. Clearly, the boys were upset, but it is all right, this is sport, such things happen. However, we are proud that we have such teams, both Metallurg and CSKA. Also SKA, of course. We hope that SKA and Dynamo will prove themselves yet.
This year, national hockey is marking its 70th anniversary. These years have seen hundreds of triumphs and a galaxy of outstanding players and coaches who have taken their place in the history of world hockey. They have paved the way for Russia’s leadership in this sport. Today, our teams also retain their standing, both at the club and national team level.
True, Russian hockey players have not yet won Olympic gold in modern-day history, so the upcoming 2018 Games in Korea are an excellent opportunity to achieve this kind of result, this kind of victory.
Clearly, success in major international tournaments is always a result of long preparatory work, constant movement forward. It is important for us to understand exactly where we lag behind and what more needs to be done.
Regarding the obvious problems, I will immediately single out material and technical resources. Yes, perhaps we have more indoor ice rinks. Mr Tretyak and people like Mikhailov and Petrov are even more aware of this. How many rinks were there in the Soviet Union? Who remembers?
Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak: Eighty.
Vladimir Putin: Eighty rinks? Today we have 485 indoor rinks with artificial ice. Still, I believe even this is not enough. Of course, this is more than in a country such as Finland, with 260, or Sweden, with 358. However, let us look at the geographical map and the population and it will become clear that this is not enough for Russia, especially considering that Canada has 2,631 ice rinks. This should be our point of comparison. In other words, there is something for us to strive for and work on.
Hockey is becoming increasingly popular in Russia, from the Zolotaya Shaiba [Golden Puck] tournament for neighbourhood sports teams that brought together 260,000 people from across 74 regions last year to the so-called Night Hockey League that is also gaining traction little by little. I’m not even speaking about the Kontinental Hockey League where the stadiums are packed every game.
Of course, there is a need for systemic solutions. At the last council meeting, we agreed to include a football sub-programme in the federal targeted programme for developing physical culture and sport. Let’s now think about adding a hockey sub-programme. It goes without saying that it will not happen until after 2018 when the financial burden related to the Football World Cup will no longer be relevant.
With respect to areas that benefited from state support, I would like to place a special emphasis on women’s hockey. In 2011–2014, targeted subsidies were allocated to this effect, helping increase the number of women’s teams and improve the level of the Russian female hockey championships. There is now real competition for getting a spot on the main and youth national teams. This has had a positive impact on the results of the Russian team and helped promote this sport.
Unfortunately, now that this support is de facto no longer available, we are witnessing a decline. I think that until women’s hockey gets on its feet we must support it. As you know, the Russian team deserved it: in 2016 it took the bronze at the World Cup.
Sledge hockey deserves the same kind of attention. It is also early days for this sport in Russia, but the whole world and the whole country have already seen the Russian team in action at the Sochi Paralympic Games, where it won silver medals. The team competed courageously and openly and earned respect and admiration. Its performance and the unique mastery of its players helped so many people discover sledge hockey and see what great things people are capable of.
Of course, we cannot fail to mention bandy, or Russian hockey, as it is sometimes called. Russia is a recognised leader in this sport and is second to none in terms of accomplishments. We need to continue to promote bandy, increase the level of competitions and create favourable conditions for Russian players.
I would particularly like to thank Vladimir Bogdanov [general director and co-owner of Surgutneftegas oil company] for supporting bandy. I recently met with players and coaches of the national team; we looked around for sources of financing, we asked Mr Bogdanov and he answered the call. Thank you very much. I believe this will be significant assistance for the development of this sport both in the region and in general. I ask the heads of Russian regions also to be attentive to this in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you know, everything is interconnected in sport. Excellent play and victories of professionals attract the attention of millions of people and encourage them to practice sport, improve their health and pursue an active lifestyle, while with children and young people, this step can essentially give them a start in life and pave the way for a successful sport career.
We should support this attitude without fail, ensure the accessibility, above all, of amateur, wide-scale hockey, create hockey infrastructure, say, at schools and provide targeted extrabudgetary support to gifted children from low-income families. This will make it possible, among other things, to select promising children and lead them from sport school to a professional club and to the national team, gradually moving away from the sometimes excessive and ill-founded practice of using [foreign] legionnaires.
Naturally, this will also be facilitated by the development of the Students Hockey League. It should be based on teams from federal universities and sport colleges. It is also important, of course, to provide ice rinks and measures to support these teams. I request the Sports Ministry and the Education and Science Ministry to work more actively towards this goal.
I would now like to highlight a number of aspects that have to do with hockey’s organisational structure.
First, the adoption of the law on professional sports is taking unacceptably long. I expect the instruction that I had issued to this effect to be implemented already by this spring session. The law will help get the finances sorted, among other things. We have discussed on a number of occasions that a professional sport should be able to earn money on its own, while clubs should not become vanity fairs for their sponsors. We need to develop the sport, instead of showing off who has more money. This is especially true when it comes to companies that are owned by the state, in full or in part.
We are able to address many issues in this Council, which has proven to be an efficient platform for bringing together all stakeholders of the sport. However, there are issues that are exclusively related to sport and should be addressed by the relevant sports federations. This case, of course, pertains to the Russian Ice Hockey Federation. It is in charge of developing this sport in Russia and ensuring that the interests of all leagues, clubs, training institutions, hockey players, coaches, referees and other professionals are taken into account.
Finally, my third point has to do with the standing of Russian hockey in the world. The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) is the apex of professional hockey, and is currently the strongest international sports league in Eurasia. It is successfully expanding its geography. Nevertheless, KHL is still behind its main and only competitor, the National Hockey League, in a number of ways. This primarily has to do with its image, but there are other issues as well. We have things to improve in this respect.
Let me add that the Ice Hockey World Championship that we will hold in Moscow and St Petersburg, together with the International Ice Hockey Federation, will help enhance Russian hockey’s appeal. In fact, I started my opening remarks by saying just that.
As you know, the Ice Hockey World Championship will begin on May 6. I ask the Sports Minister to report on the preparations for this prestigious tournament. The Prime Minister and I agreed that he will open the championship in Moscow. Unfortunately, I will not be able to be there, because I will be attending protocol events in Sochi at the time.
Let’s get to work.
Vladimir Putin: Friends,
I think that on the whole we understand the list of relevant problems that are faced by the organisers of one of the most beloved sports in our country. It is clear what needs to be done.
Above all, it is necessary to develop mass-scale hockey for children, teenagers, students and women. Naturally, we must support hockey at the top level and we should indeed sort out how national championships are held, how the Kontinental Hockey League operates and how to involve more teams in it to make it even more attractive. Our colleagues are already talking about involving our Chinese friends. The President of the People's Republic of China once told me: “We’ll put 300 million people on skates.” I think if he said this, he will do it – he is a man of his word. The Japanese may play as well.
You see, we are talking about a truly colossal scale. This is certain to promote the development of world hockey, which is very important and the right thing to do for our country, for developing, as we keep saying, a taste for a healthy lifestyle, physical culture and sport so that our rising generations will be healthier, oriented toward an active lifestyle and capable of fighting for their interests and for those of the nation. We should make hockey a platform that will develop in us and our citizens the spirit of patriotism, a striving to achieve top results and achieve victory. This is all part of our national character and merely requires a bit of support.
Let’s formulate not only what was prepared by the working group, but also proposals that were made during our discussion today. Let’s put them on paper, turn them into a document and move forward.
Naturally, I hope that we will work continuously with you rather than just from one meeting to another. At our meetings like today’s, we will register what has been done and what else needs to be done.
Thank you very much.