Saturday, 20 February 2010

Lawmakers Say Heads Will Roll for Dismal Olympic Performance

Five days into the Winter Olympics, lawmakers were already calling for blood Thursday, saying that top sports officials should be canned for the national team's dismal showing so far.

The nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, or LDPR, initiated the howls, calling on Russian Olympic Committee chief Leonid Tyagachyov to resign immediately.Vitaly Mutko, the sports, tourism and youth politics minister, should also step down if the Russian team "does not start winning," the party said in a statement.

The current state of Russian sports elicits bitterness and offense among all Russian citizens," said the statement, signed by Igor Lebedev, head of the party's faction in the State Duma. "The time for slogans and appeals has passed. In four years, Russia will host the Olympics in Sochi."

Later on Thursday, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, of the ruling United Russia party, said the Vancouver Olympics would be considered a failure if Russia placed anywhere below fourth in the medals table.

The national team has earned just three medals so far — gold, silver and bronze — putting it 11th overall. Going into the games, Izvestia had reported that top Russian sports officials were counting on a total of 30 medals, including seven to 11 golds, although Tyagachyov has attributed those figures to individual sports federations' goals.

"Anything less than an overall fourth-place finish for the team would absolutely be a failure," Gryzlov told reporters in response to a question about Lebedev's statement, Interfax reported.

He cautioned that a decision should only be made once the Olympics are completed, however. Tyagachyov and Mutko will be called to speak in the Duma in March, and "any parliamentary faction will be able … to express its concern," Gryzlov said.

But Olympic speed skating champion Svetlana Zhurova, now a deputy speaker in the Duma with United Russia, said nothing would change if Tyagachyov and Mutko were forced to step down.

She said sports federations were responsible for success and failure at the highest levels and that top officials were unable to ask anything of them because the federations are independent.

"We can't separate sports federations and break them off from other social organizations. But they're totally on their own now, and no one can tell them what to do — the sports ministry has no way of exerting its influence," Zhurova told Interfax.

Ivan Melnikov, a Communist deputy speaker in the Duma, also said the firings would do little to help. He suggested that Finance Minster Alexei Kudrin and United Russia be held responsible for their federal budgets, RIA-Novosti reported.

In an interview to Radio Mayak on Tuesday, Mutko called for patience, saying the national team usually got off to a slow start at the Winter Games.

Tyagachyov, for his part, said cross-country skier Alexander Panzhinsky's silver medal — after a photo finish with Russian teammate Nikita Kryukov — was as good as gold.

"That's two golds — those two golden guys showed that we're strong," Tyagachyov told RIA-Novosti. "Mutko and I are worrying, although we're not showing it. But we're sure that it will all fall into place, because we're working a lot."

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