The European Games in Belarus should contribute to the further consolidation of the nation, Belarus President, President of the National Olympic Committee (NOC) Alexander Lukashenko said at the extended session of the NOC Executive Committee to discuss the 2019 European Games on 7 September.
“An organizing committee led by the prime minister, various subcommittees, and the Directorate of the European Games have been set up. Various groups of experts, consultants already arrive in Belarus to discuss the preparations for the European Games in detail. The government regularly informs me that the work is underway, and we are moving in the right direction. But I am concerned about a number of issues. The main one is that the country still does not live in the spirit of the games. The coverage of the preparations for the European Games leaves much to be desired. I would like to listen to your reports on the progress in this field. I want to know when our citizens will start getting information about the progress in your work. The European Games is an important event which should give a strong ideological impulse to our society, contribute to the further consolidation of the nation,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed.
The President recalled that Belarus was given the honorable right to host this sports event in 2019 almost a year ago. That was a proposal of the international sports community who commended the country’s achievements in the development of sport, hosting various competitions and international events, including the 2014 IIHF World Championship which had been recognized as the best world championship in history. “Belarus has been developing sports and other infrastructure for many years. Guests from all over the world arrive in Belarus with pleasure. The atmosphere of stability, tolerance, and, most importantly, security plays a big role in this. All that was taken into account too,” the head of state said.
Belarus has thoroughly studied the proposals of the European Olympic Committees (EOC), has calculated future expenses. “The government assured us that the expenses would be rather small - €35-40 million. We decided that we can lend a shoulder to the European Olympic family and host this event. The European Olympic Committees promised comprehensive assistance to us in the resolution of all kinds of issues, material and financial support. However, one should not think that we have done a favor to the European Olympic family. First of all, we are happy that the European Olympic Committees gave us the right to host this event,” Alexander Lukashenko said. He remarked that enough time has passed since then to evaluate the progress in the preparations, discuss pending issues and outline future goals.
The President remarked that the preparation of sport facilities and other objects is behind the schedule. “What problems, for example, prevent you from commissioning Dinamo Stadium in Minsk in 2017 in accordance with a corresponding resolution of the President? Everyone understands perfectly well that we still need to test it as a venue for track-and-field events, prepare the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games. And today the government has submitted a proposal to prolong the renovation of the sports and shooting complex Uruchye till 31 December 2018. I do not even ask if it is late or not. My answer to all the questions is as follows: do not submit any rescheduling proposals to me. Everything should be done in accordance with the previously arranged schedule,” Alexander Lukashenko instructed.
The head of state also focused on security issues. As the international situation shows, this is number one priority. “There should not even be a shade of doubt regarding Belarus’ security. The main thing is that there should be no self-complacency,” the President stressed. “We have enough ill-wishers who will try to dissuade us. God forbid if anything like the events in Western Europe happens here. We must be very vigilant. Sports events and festive atmosphere for our citizens and especially for our guests are the pillars of the Games. Visitors should get positive impressions of their stay in Belarus, in Minsk, and should take these impressions back home.”
The President remarked that the agreement on hosting the Games had been already signed with the EOC. In his regard, he asked if the agreement had taken all the interests of the country into account. “Have you solved the issues that we discussed in October 2016? Are there any pitfalls that will eventually cost us a pretty penny?” the head of state asked. “Please tell me what expenses we will have. Have you planned and calculated them? Is everything clear about the budget of the European Games? I would like to know about the state of affairs with the organization of TV broadcasting during the Games. What obligations did we take and what assistance will we get from international organizations?”
Special attention was drawn to the training of Belarusian national teams in various sports. “I hope we will not be ashamed of the performance of Belarusians,” Alexander Lukashenko said. He added that the results of Belarus in certain sports are disastrous. “Besides, the EOC promised that the 2019 European Games will be the qualifiers for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. What has been done in this field?” the President wondered.
The head of state underlined that the success of the European Games in Belarus, the performance of the Belarusian athletes, the results they will show to Europe will influence the opinion about the country and its people for decades. Therefore, there are no minor things in the preparations for this biggest sports forum in Europe. “All aspects, such as border crossing, hotel accommodation, catering services, city beautification should be organized in the best way possible,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The participants of the session discussed a wide range of issues concerning the preparations for the 2019 European Games. Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov, Chairman of the Minsk City Hall Andrei Shorets, Sport and Tourism Minister Alexander Shamko, Secretary General of the National Olympic Committee Georgy Katulin delivered their reports.
“We need to take our nation, the country, the state to the highest level of development, and the games should help us do it. Everything should be done for people. No need for pomposity. Everything should be done beautifully. We will not be able to make it better than Russia did in Sochi or Azerbaijan did in Baku. We do not need it. They spent hundreds of millions of US dollars on the opening and closing ceremonies alone. I am not saying we have no such money. We would find the necessary funds if this was worth it. But we do not need it. What we need is to beat this with the hospitality of our people. Both opening and closing should be heartwarming ceremonies,” the Belarusian leader said.
Alexander Lukashenko noted that necessary specialists can be invited for consultations if there is a need for advice from experts or there are good examples abroad. “They will be glad to come and tell you how to do it,” he said.
Speaking of the need to renovate the main sports facilities or tidy the country up, the head of state noted that not much needs to be done in this regard. “We keep the country tidy, especially Minsk. We just need to put finishing touches on the capital city and other places,” the President said.
The head of state stressed that the infrastructure developed for the European Games will stay in Belarus for decades. “We will not have to build any new things another 10-20 years. Everything will remain in place and our athletes, national teams will use this infrastructure to train,” he added.
The upcoming international sporting event is important from the point of view of attracting tourists. “The guests who will come for the games will be followed by others. Tourism means income for our country, which is located at the crossroads of all roads. The games will invigorate the country. People understand that we need to give the best account of ourselves. A lot of different people will come to Belarus. We will not deny entry to anybody. There will be ill-wishers who do not like us for our successes, weaknesses and so on. They will watch and examine all processes taking place in Belarus through a magnifying glass,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“We should communicate to every person what he should accomplish prior to these games,” the Belarusian leader said.
The head of state asked the MinskCity Hall and the Belarus President Administration about long-delayed construction projects in Minsk. “Deal with the problem of long-delayed construction projects in the city. There should be no fences hiding these construction sites. Engage everyone. In certain cases there can be finishing works in the buildings, furniture placement. Building facades and nearby territories should be put in order,” Alexander Lukashenko instructed.
The President cited a long-delayed construction project near Minsk Arena as an example. “This is a beautiful building which can be used as a luxurious hotel during the Games. There are different apartments,” he said. “If rich people do not want to stay in a hotel, they will rent those apartments.”
At the same time, it will be necessary to decide how to use the building after the European Games, the head of state said. “Maybe, it can be used as rented housing for scientists or someone else. We need to think about it. This will be very good and profitable business, you will get good money there,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The President also paid special attention to keeping prices under control to avoid price hikes during the Games. This should be done in very careful way, he stressed.
The Belarusian President slammed the performance of Belarusian athletes at various international competitions. Speaking about the Belarusian football team, the head of state drew attention to the fact that it lost even to Luxembourg in the World Cup qualifying tournament. “It is better to forget about it as soon as possible. Such attitude will do no good,” Alexander Lukashenko underlined.
The President expressed his dissatisfaction with the performance of HC Dinamo Minsk that suffered a series of bad losses in the KHL championship. “They did win in Sochi, but this only suggests that they can play but do not,” he said.
The head of state also stressed that the national athletics, rhythmic gymnastics and judo teams failed to show good results at the recent world championships. “What do we spend the money on?” Alexander Lukashenko wondered.
“You have time to adjust, change coaches if needed. If you want to win in sport, you have to be ahead of others. The heads of the sports federations will be held accountable for the lack of progress. You may ask for money if you have a promising athlete or a coach. We will allocate the necessary funds and then we will ask for the result. Stop complaining about some reorganization, a change of generations. Money will be available only for an athlete or a coach. This is my stringent requirement to the National Olympic Committee and the government. If there is a result, come and ask whatever you need,” the President said.
The head of state noted that he has to hear out excuses after every unsuccessful performance.
“Don’t you think we pay too much attention to the athlete’s anxiety during the competitions? Athletes feel less nervous when well-prepared,” the President said.
Alexander Lukashenko drew the attention of Sports Minister Alexander Shamko to the need to focus on the results of athletes in 2018 with a view to spotting those who can perform well at the 2019 European Games. “If these athletes achieve nothing next year, there will be no one to rely on in 2019,” the head of state said.
The head of state stressed that the country has money for sport but it will be given only if there are results.
The President did not welcome the idea of developing a selected group of sports. “It is the wrong approach. We need Olympic medals and we also need to support every sport. Priority attention should be paid to the sports that bring results at the Games. Other sports should be supported as well, especially if they are believed to produce good results,” he said.
Alexander Lukashenko cited Vladislav Goncharov’s success at the 2016 Rio Olympics as an example of the current close attention to the trampoline sport in the country.