Serhii BUBKA is a legendary athlete who set 35 world records in pole vaulting. Now he is the president of the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board. Read The Day’s special interview to find out why Bubka decided to run for the IOC presidency, what he said to the initiators of the boycott of the Olympic Games in Sochi, and how he encouraged sport bosses to fight against doping.
You presented your candidacy for the post of the head of the International Olympic Committee. Why did you decide to participate in the election?
“My career of an active sportsman lasted for over 20 years. On countless occasions, I had a chance to witness proof of Nelson Mandela’s words: ‘Sport has the power to change the world.’ Sport unites people of various nations, religions, and political views. Sport teaches mutual respect, active attitude to life. Sport grants health and faith in oneself.
“That is why when the time had come to think about the future, I did not doubt for a single moment that I should use my knowledge for the benefit of sport and the Olympic movement. As of now, my experience in sports administration has been going on for two decades. I have been a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1999, and I have already been chosen for the third time to be a member of its executive board. I have been working at the council of the International Association of Athletic Federation for 12 years, and I have been its vice-president since 2007. Also, I have been the president of the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee for eight years. At the moment, my greatest ambition is to use all my expertise and skills for the popularization of sport and promotion of healthy lifestyle globally.
“During the past two decades, while led by Juan Antonio Samaranch and Jacques Rogge, the IOC became the most successful sports organization worldwide. The Olympic Games are a unique phenomenon in the history, and their uniqueness gives us an opportunity to change the world into a better place by the means of sport. In order to achieve this, experience, energy, drive, clear understanding of the present situation, and distinct vision of the future are needed. I think I am ready to head this movement, that is why I decided to come forward as a candidate for the IOC presidency and share my vision of future with the committee’s members.”
How do you assess your chances to win, comparing to other candidates for the post?
“It is up to analysts to assess the chances. I am convinced that each of the six candidates is worth becoming a president, and no matter who wins, we will keep on working together for the realization of our ideas and further development of the Olympic movement.”
“DOPING UNDERMINES THE TRUST IN SPORT”
You are one of the key fighters against doping in professional sport. But scandals keep tarnishing almost all large tournaments. How can sport be cleansed of doping?
“Unfortunately, there will always be people in sport, just like in other spheres of life, who try to achieve success through dishonest methods. Today, doping is one of the main threats to the Olympic movement development. It will hardly ever be possible to eliminate the usage of doping completely, but fighting against this phenomenon is one of the IOC’s priorities.
“I would like to remind that it was the IOC who initiated the first doping tests during the 1960s. It was the IOC who founded the World Anti-Doping Agency, and the amount of checks of Olympic athletes during the games and outside of competitions does not have an analog in the world of international sport.
“It is crucially important to keep up this fight on all levels: from regional and national to global. We must make sure that everyone understands that those who infringe upon the idea of fair play will be punished, and this punishment will not have a time limitation. The educational aspect is critically important as well: sometimes athletes, especially young ones, who choose the wrong path, simply lack the knowledge and realization of consequences of their actions. A lot of effort must be applied in order to change the consciousness of trainers and sportsmen in this aspect.”
You said in one of the recent interviews that “The youth should be more active, because unfortunately, sport and physical activity are not a priority today.” How can young people be motivated to love sports again? In particular, what would you do to facilitate this process if you were elected IOC president?
“Modern society is called informational. Internet and various available means of communication create a great many opportunities to communicate, exchange knowledge and experience. But there is a dark side to the picture: multimedia distract the youth’s attention from physical activity, which is necessary for normal development. As a result, obesity and metabolic imbalance became a global problem among young people. Truth is, we risk losing a healthy generation.
“For me it is absolutely obvious that the only way out of this situation is sport, an active attitude to life, self-discipline, and fair play. I am sure that the IOC has plenty of opportunities to involve youth in our movement.
“I offered a few projects to the IOC members, which would make Olympic sport closer to the youth. For example, creation of the so-called Olympic Search Engine, a global information Internet database, dedicated to many aspects of sport – from history to rules of different kinds of sport games to training plans and coaching methods. And in order to hear about the needs and interests of the young generation, I propose to create an Olympic Youth Council at the IOC. Members of this council would be chosen from all the regions of the world through the National Olympic Committees. One of the best ways to involve the youth in Olympic life is to add kinds of sport to the games’ program, which are popular among the youth. This tendency exists already, and I think that it should be developed. Of course, changes in the program require serious work, since it is necessary to keep the balance of the general number of participants.”
“THE YOUNG NEED HEROES”
Mass media write a lot about “Bubka’s phenomenon.” You raised the bar of the highest worldwide achievements in pole vaulting outdoor from 5.85 to 6.14 meters, and indoor – from 5.81 to 6.15 meters. Your latest indoor record of 6.15 meters has remained unbroken for two decades now. What, in your opinion, is the reason for that? And what does the world’s highest jumper feel?
“The feeling goes like this: when you conquer a certain height, you already start thinking about the next one. Pole vaulting is called a professor’s sport. It is one of the most complicated disciplines in athletics because of the performance technique and methods of preparation. In order to jump high, a sportsman must take into account a number of various factors like psychology, his or her own physical abilities, technique that fits the best, the properties of the pole and the track, and many others. In any case, my example shows that there is a potential to jump 6 meters and higher. All it takes is to learn how to compile all the factors in one place at a certain point of time. Of course, I am flattered that my results are remembered and valued, but at the moment I am concentrated on new challenges. I strive to use my expertise and knowledge that I received in sports in order to popularize the Olympic values and the healthy lifestyle all over the world.”
A good sportsman is made up not only by the excellent physical condition. Often the morale, will, and psychological traits are important for success. What helped you become not only a famous athlete, but an interesting person as well? Was it your family traditions, upbringing, or cultural guiding lines?
“I am very grateful to all those people who left a mark in my life and upbringing. I am the most grateful to my family, my parents, and also to my coach Vitalii Petrov. I was taught self-discipline from the very childhood, I was taught that in order to succeed in life, I had to work hard and overcome myself in the first place. The prestige of the sport in the country meant a lot as well. Olympic champions, outstanding sportsmen were heroes for many young people. I think this is relevant for upbringing at any time. The young need heroes, and sportsmen fit the best for this role. By using the examples of outstanding athletes, we will be able to involve the youth into sports, physical activity, and make the next generation healthy and harmonic.”
In 2010 you told once that you learned that Ivan Ohienko was your ancestor, your great-grandfather’s brother. Do you feel genealogic relation to this outstanding cultural figure of the 20th century? How did this fact influence your worldview?
“Ohienko was really a prominent figure of his time. I am sure that his works, his investment in preservation and development of Ukrainian culture will remain in the nation’s memory for many centuries. We have not known anything about him for years. It was even dangerous to mention Ohienko’s name. It is most impressing that despite all the misfortunes that he had to face, Ohienko never lost faith in his calling nor love for his country. I can say that I am proud of my ancestor and I am sure there is a lot all of us can learn from him.”
“BOYCOTTING SPORTS COMPETITIONS CAN NEVER BE A WAY TO SOLVE POLITICAL PROBLEMS”
British actor and writer Stephen Fry called to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi because of the violation of human rights in Russia. This appeal was supported by a part of globally renowned cultural figures and politicians. Is boycotting a way out of the situation?
“In 1984, I directly felt the consequences of a political boycott of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles by the Soviet Union. That was a personal tragedy for me and for a whole generation of brilliant sportsmen, who lost a chance to perform at the world’s main sport event, a chance that was unique for many of them. It should be understood that athletes prepare for years in order to participate in the Olympic Games, this is a dream of their whole lives for many of them. According to the research carried out by the IOC, only 15 percent of sportsmen keep up the high level of results and can fulfill themselves more than during one Games. Then, in the 1980s, I have decided for myself once and for all: boycotting sport events can never serve as a means to solve political problems. There always must be another way.”
Sport is the best propaganda of a healthy lifestyle. At the same time, today we can often see sportsmen appear in commercials of cigarettes and alcohol. Hundreds of videos appear in social networks, featuring famous sportsmen at clubs getting drunk. How can they be motivated to promote a healthy lifestyle by their own example?
“The IOC does not cooperate with alcohol and tobacco brands and urges sportsmen to avoid such cooperation, since it contradicts the main idea of our movement: promoting a healthy lifestyle. Of course, it is up to athletes themselves to manage their personal behavior and personal contracts. But I want to draw your attention to the fact that the brightest symbols of the Olympic sports, such legendary figures as Usain Bolt, Michael Jordan, and Ian Thorpe, absolutely correspond to the image of a sportsman which should serve as an example for the youth of the whole world.”
“I ALWAYS HAVE A BAG WITH SPORTS CLOTHES WITH ME”
Do you keep on training?
“I cannot imagine my life without sport and exercise, this is an integral part of my everyday life. That is why I keep in shape. Running, swimming, cycling, tennis – this is the best kind of recreation for me. It helps to not only keep my body fit, but to restore my mental resources. No matter how busy my schedule is, no matter what country I am in, I always have a bag with sports clothes with me.”