Vitaly Smirnov is the man trying to preserve the powerful sports mach
COURCHEVEL, France (AP) _ Vitaly Smirnov is the man trying to preserve the powerful sports machine of a country that no longer exists.
The odds may seem against him, but Smirnov is counting on the luck of the lottery to help rescue the remnants of his former Soviet Olympic system.
Smirnov, president of the former Soviet Olympic Committee, is a vice president of the International Olympic Committee.
Speaking after a meeting of the IOC Executive Board on Sunday, Smirnov expressed confidence that the Soviet Olympic movement will manage to survive within the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States.
″You cannot consider the situation in the former Soviet Union without considering the political and economic problems which we are suffering now,″ he said. ″It is a difficult period. But we hope we’ll find solutions. For the time being, I wouldn’t say we are falling in the level of sport.″
In fact, Smirnov suggested that the unified team of athletes from former Soviet republics could be near or at the top of the medals tables in the 1992 Games.
He cited a forecast by Victor Mamatov, former Soviet deputy minister of sport, that the unified team will win 27 medals in the Albertville Winter Games, including 10 or 11 gold medals.
The Soviet Union won 29 medals at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, more than any other country.
Smirnov declined to make his own medal prediction. ″Our success will depend on the others,″ he said, ″whether the German team will be strong.″
As for the Summer Games in Barcelona, he referred to forecasts by experts in Moscow that the team will lead all countries with as many as 53 gold medals.
But the immediate problem is money. It took a sponsorship deal with the German sports manufacturer adidas to finance the team for the Albertville Games.
Soon, the lottery will come into play. Smirnov recently entered into a $15 million joint venture with the Greek company Intracom to set up an electronic Olympic lottery. Machines will be installed at subway station and other public areas throughout Moscow, allowing citizens to insert their rubles for a lottery number. The system is scheduled to begin in mid-1992, and Smirnov predicted it will be very profitable.
″If this is supported by the Russian government, in one year we will be absolutely self-financed,″ Smirnov said.
During a meeting in Moscow last weekend, IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch and Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin agreed that Smirnov’s former Soviet Olympic Committee should become the Russian National Olympic Committee.
Smirnov has also been appointed by the IOC as coordinator of a newly- created council of the national Olympic committees of the indepenent states.
Smirnov said he hopes the various republics can continue to work together.
″We need competition between these republics to keep up a good level,″ he said. ″We can have championships, training sites and maybe joint commercial programs.″
Despite signs that some republics may want to go their own way for the Summer Games, particularly Ukraine, Smirnov said he still expects a unified team in Barcelona.
″I’m very optimistic,″ he said. ″The CIS is a baby, a fragile creature. We could think about the participation of a Russian team right now, but we don’t want that. We are in favor of a unified team. I think other repbulics will be also.″