Athletes are now training in preparation for the summer Olympic Games, which will take place in Paris in 2024. Every country, as always, will want to win as many medals as possible. Surely, Belarus has ambitious plans. Even if our athletes are not allowed to perform under national symbols, the Belarusian president is convinced that you cannot tear the flag and the anthem from the heart of real athletes. In this episode we will, of course, talk about high-performance sport. But first, let's figure it out: can Belarusians be considered a sport nation? Why does Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko criticize athletes and officials? And what kind of sport does the head of state love the most? The details are in the new episode of BelTA's YouTube project After the Fact: Lukashenko's Decisions.
Why does Lukashenko keep an eye on athletes so closely?
What makes a country a sport power? Some people base their opinions on the number of Olympic medals. Others scrupulously study the ratings of sport federations. We will take a look at those metrics, too. But there is another opinion. Yes, records and awards are the meaning of life for any athlete. Victories unite people and glorify countries. They are definitely worth striving for. But what makes a nation strong and beautiful is above all a healthy lifestyle.
It is the mass physical culture movement that Aleksandr Lukashenko calls the base of the pyramid titled as “high-performance sport”. Therefore, the development of physical culture and sport is one of the priorities of the social policy of Belarus. And the president pays close attention to this work for a reason.
“The development of mass physical culture, sport and tourism is an important direction of effective educational work among young people, a factor in strengthening the international prestige of the country. Only thanks to a healthy lifestyle, active physical training and sport Belarusians can become a strong and beautiful nation. Belarus has been, is and will be a sport power!” the head of state said as the national ski center Silichi was opened in the winter of 2005.
What sport events take place in Belarus?
About 22,000 mass sport events are held in Belarus every year. One of the brightest events of recent years is the cultural and sport festival Vytoki. The competitions Belarusian Ski Track and Minsk Half Marathon have become traditional.
Chairman of the Belarusian Athletics Federation Ivan Tsikhan said: “We will make a Belarusian running league this year. It will combine a series of races in all regions. We will organize three competitions in every region: one in the oblast capital and two in district capitals. Participants of the league will be able to participate in all the races. At least in seven. We have not finalized the regulation yet but at least in seven races. They will score points, these points will be summarized and during our final competition – the Minsk Half Marathon – they will run and compete with each other. There will be an award ceremony at the end.”
The national School Olympics were resumed in 2006 by order of the head of state. More than 100 tournaments for children and teenagers are held in the country every year, including the football competition Leather Ball, the handball competition Swift Ball, the biathlon tournament Snow Sniper, and the national ice hockey tournament for the prizes of the president Golden Puck. And ice hockey competitions among amateurs can already be considered a hallmark of Belarus.
“If you don't have sport, you will never become an executive. You will have a belly and will be fat and clumsy, excuse me for being rude. Sport is important for health. Because an executive has to be healthy, too. Listen, what kind of executive he or she is if they look bad? And this is sport. Therefore, I have to not only do it myself, not only teach my children, but also demonstrate to all the people that it is necessary to go in for sports. It is a must,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed as he met with students of the Academy of Public Administration in 2019.
Why does Belarus need so many ice palaces?
There are more than 23,000 physical training and sport facilities in the country. Every oblast capital of Belarus has its own sport palace, an indoor ice rink. More and more large facilities are being built in the regions. The authorities tried so hard to create all the conditions for sport and outdoor enthusiasts that they even drew criticism: why does such a small country need so many ice arenas?
Secretary General of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation Andrei Bashko said: “In our people-oriented state a comparatively large number of ice arenas have been built and continue being built. Why comparatively? You have to take into account our neighbors in the world ranking and the size of these countries. For example, at present there are about 80 ice arenas in Austria, 160 in Kazakhstan, and 44 in Belarus now.”
At the same time the official noted that one cannot build an ice arena and expect it to get full on its own. Work with children comes to the forefront. “The ice hockey federation launched the project ‘Ice hockey goes to children' in Brest Oblast in 2021. During the first year of studies kids were invited to do this kind of sport on an extracurricular basis. During the second year of studies this subject was added to the curriculum just like basic disciplines like math, Belarusian language, and Russian language. Some time later we saw that it had produced results. The ice arenas operate at their capacity. The kids even bring their parents on weekends for mass skating. They are now hugely interested in doing this kind of sport,” the secretary general of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation stressed.
The Belarus president has repeatedly stressed: “New sport facilities should become home for national sport teams. On the whole, what has been created, what has been built – everything has to be occupied from morning to evening. This door should not be closed for people at all, let alone athletes. Athletes should be prioritized and then... People should come here. Not to the hospital, not to the pharmacy to buy medications, but to you. Conditions for physical training have been created for all segments of the population.”
What sport does Lukashenko like?
These are not just words. Aleksandr Lukashenko sets a personal example of a healthy lifestyle and love for sports. Skeptics will object: all this presidential hockey, biathlon and skiing is just PR. We would agree with this statement if the head of state went out on the ice or a ski track once every five years during yet another election campaign. But for the Belarusian president sport is the whole life.
From a very young age to the present day several hours of training have always been in the daily schedule of Aleksandr Lukashenko. And if he is not skating or skiing, rest assured that he is waving a heavy ax on his farm or, at least, playing tennis on the court with his sons.
Football, ice hockey, cross-country and alpine skiing, roller skiing, biathlon, cycling and tennis. All these sports were and are still enjoyed by the Belarusian president. But he started like all the village kids by playing football in a field near his home. Aleksandr Lukashenko still calls himself a football player. True, a knee injury forced him to change his sport focus. And for many years the head of state has been known as the leader of an amateur ice hockey team. His sons seriously go in for ice hockey, following the example of their father. The president plays on the same team with his youngest son Nikolai.
“I don't go to the gym at all although I spend a lot of time doing sports. It is normal for me to dedicate two hours a day or a little more to sport. It is a must. I advise you to do the same. Children will follow in your footsteps. And I advise you to work out outside more. It's wonderful, especially in the morning. You can go outside and run. In the morning you have to do sports for 30-45 minutes. Especially men should do it in order to be true men,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said as he met with activists of the Belarusian Republican Youth Union BRSM in October 2018.
The president is also known as an avid sport fan. Moreover, he not only follows performances of Belarusian athletes at international championships, but also observes national championships, especially when teams from the regions participate in them. Once Aleksandr Lukashenko even became the initiator of the sensational super series between HC Dinamo Minsk and the extraleague team. It turned out that ice hockey players from the domestic championship are no worse than players from a rich club by Belarusian standards. On the whole, the games brought pleasure to the fans and allowed sport functionaries to draw certain conclusions.
What is happening to Belarusian ice hockey?
Some are still wondering why Belarus needs so many ice palaces because the country does not shine at Winter Olympics and world championships. But, on the other hand, look at the latest ranking of the International Ice Hockey Federation. The national team of Belarus is ranked 14th out of 56 countries – between France and Austria. In the best years we climbed to the 8th line. I think the results are good. Plus, critics for some reason do not take into account that ice rinks cater not only to professional sports. This is where the future of Belarusian Olympus grows. In addition, people join in active recreation and a healthy lifestyle.
Andrei Bashko said: “We will need several years in order to get back into the top 8 because rating points are awarded depending on your rank and it is impossible to fix the situation within one year. We will have to move step by step. At present I expect at least the sixth position in the world ranking in view of our perspectives and the guys we have.”
What do Belarusians think about sport?
Approximately 93% of Belarusians over the age of 16 believe their health is good and satisfactory. Almost a third of the population is engaged in physical education and sports. Back in 2010 this figure was lower by 5%. At the same time, the most athletic in the country are young people. Half of the population aged 16-29 finds time to exercise or do sports. But the elderly are also trying to keep up: 28% of the people over 60 go in for sports.
The state program “Physical culture and sports” is currently being implemented in Belarus. Its main goals are successful performance of Belarusian athletes at Olympic Games and other major competitions; familiarization of the population with regular physical training and sports; creation of conditions for the development of children sports and youth sports.
Piotr Voron, Head of the Physical Culture Department of the Planning and Organizational Work Office of the Belarusian Sports and Tourism Ministry, noted: “Our main work is to encourage the population to go in for physical training and sport, to organize various mass sport events. You may have noticed a large number of various sport events taking place in the country.”
This year's first mass sport event Sobriety Run took place in Belarus on 1 January.
How are Belarusians ranked internationally?
On the whole, about 500-600 medals are won annually by Belarusian athletes at international competitions. Belarus is among the 25-30 strongest sport countries in the world. Belarus occupies the 32nd place in the World Ranking of Countries in Elite Sport. After the official recognition of the National Olympic Committee, Belarusians competed at fourteen Olympic Games. 112 awards have been won.
Belarusian Olympians did not score the largest number of victories on record at the latest games in Beijing. But according to their results, Belarus took the 24th place in the team score. It is curious that at these games the Belarusians got into another ranking: the popular American magazine People compiled the top of the most memorable uniforms of the teams at the competition's opening ceremony. In total, 17 teams out of almost 100 applicants turned out to be on the fashionable list. The Belarusians were awarded the 11th place.
What is happening to Belarusian football?
Belarusian tennis players, biathletes, freestylers, trampoliners, gymnasts, kayakers are known far beyond the borders of the country. But what is the most annoying thing? The state of affairs in the most popular sport - football. In the FIFA ranking we are in the 97th place. The Belarusian national team is next to the teams of Vietnam and Equatorial Guinea. We do not even dream of seeing the Belarusians in the World Cup finals, but at least we should be able to participate in it? After all, only according to official lists, the country has 23,000 people, who do professional football. Why can't we find a couple of dozen among them? Apparently Aleksandr Grigoryevich Lukashenko will have to resume playing football.
Aleksandr Lukashenko said not so long ago: “The state of this sport, like many others, is terrible. The World Cup is in progress. I didn't notice any of our football players there for some reason. Or am I just bad at watching the World Cup? We are not even close. Moreover, I compare the skills our football players demonstrate with those that athletes show there today. And keep in mind that they show these results in winter. And as a former football player, who has played a lot of football, I simply get scared.”
It turns out that everything is fine with physical education and amateur sports in Belarus, but there is no high-performance sport. Where do young athletes get lost? They go in for all kinds of sport. But as soon as it comes to the national team, the guys get lost. “We need to look for problems here and solve them,” the president believes.
The president said two years before: “The state invests huge amounts of money in the promotion of all sports. Today all athletes sit mainly on the state's shoulders. It is probably one of the reasons why we are not doing so well in high-performance sports. It's too good for everyone, there is no need to go anywhere, you don't have to ask anyone because the state will provide. So far, especially in football, I don't see any result.”
How are Belarusians training amid Western sanctions?
Paralympic movement has also gained momentum in Belarus. On the whole, these athletes are the most dedicated because the main motivation for them is life itself. These are real heroes who achieve victories with hard work. But they also get the most painful blows from the side.
Do you remember how last spring the International Paralympic Committee changed its mind about the admission of athletes from Russia and Belarus to the Beijing games in a neutral status and completely removed them from the Paralympics? The athletes had been preparing for these games for more than a year. And in autumn the International Paralympic Committee temporarily suspended the membership of Belarus and Russia, effectively depriving athletes of the ability to compete at the international level.
Other athletes face similar restrictions. But our countries found a way out and held joint training camps and competitions. They took place in previous years as well. But while 595 Belarusians and some 1,800 representatives of Russia took part in them in 2021, 487 joint events took place in 2022 and gathered some 4,500 Belarusians and 3,700 Russians. The number of represented sports also doubled from 22 to 48.
Chairman of the Belarusian Athletics Federation Ivan Tsikhan said: “Preparations for the Olympics are in progress. Training models have been reconciled. The national team has passed qualifying examination. One can say we are in high spirits. But, unfortunately, there are problems with our participation in international competitions. Our field-and-track athletes cannot even compete with Russians because Russia has been banned. If we participate in their competitions, we will be disqualified as well. And they cannot come to Belarus because they will violate their commitments. We are now in negotiations with the Asian side to allow our leading athletes to participate in domestic Asian competitions and demonstrate their training standards. We don't want our athletes to get out of practice of participation in international competitions.”
I don't know how your day started today and what your plans for it are, but we will still suggest that you follow the example of the Belarusian president and spend a couple of hours doing sports.