BULGARIAN SPORT BREATHES ITS LAST WITH OLYMPIC COMPOSURE
WHO SPENDS THE SPORTS' MONEY?Bulgarian sportsmen performed excellently in the 28th Olympics, Sports Minister Vassil Ivanov said after the end of Athens 2004 last August 29. In an interview for the private bTV channel Mr. Ivanov also said that despite the recent success the sportsmen should start as soon as possible their preparation for the next Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. However, we do not quite agree with Mr. Ivanov. Even tedious statistics show just the opposite - Bulgaria's present 33rd place in the final medal count list of all participating countries is our poorest performance since 1952 when Boris Georgiev swept the first medal for Bulgaria. The situation seems even gloomier if we begin analysing figures alone. Because then it turns out that Bulgarian sport where billions have been poured, is about to breathe its last.The Olympics of unpleasant surprisesIf we examine Bulgaria's participation in Athens 2004, it will turn out that unpleasant surprises were much more than the pleasant ones. Which were the good ones? The talented Olympic sprinter Ivet Lalova endeared herself to all viewers. She finished fifth in the 200m finals, and fourth in the 100m final sprint, which is the best result in the history of Bulgarian sprint. Daniela Yordanova managed to cruise to the prestigious fifth place in the 1,500m finals. Despite a serious injury Petya Nedelcheva ranked fifth in the badminton tournament, although that sport comes among the last when State subsidies are distributed. The sisters Petya and Tsvetelina Yanchulova scored Bulgaria's first victory in beach volleyball and were not far from winning over the future vice champions. Georgi Georgiev got a bronze medal in the 66 kg class in judo - a sport we had forgotten about for about 25 years. Ivo Yanakiev excelled all expectations, sweeping bronze in rowing, single sculls. So much with pleasant surprises. The bad ones were much more, which raises the question if our expectations were not too high. The sure champions - Rumyana Neykova (rowing, single sculls) and Armen Nazaryan (Greco-Roman wrestling) became bronze medallists; Tanyu Kiryakov and Emil Milev who were Bulgaria's expectant champions at the men's air pistol, remained without any medals; Bulgaria's four failed to win an Olympic canoe/kayak bronze in the 1,000m finals, failing for the first time since 1976; for the first time since 1968 no medals could be won in the field-and-track athletics, where favourites such as Venelina Veneva and Svetla Dimitrova even did not make it to the finals. Bulgaria's good traditions in Greco-Roman wrestling, which has brought the country 60 medals in all, this time failed as Nazaryan's bronze cannot be considered its achievement. And so on, and so on. The usual excusesUnlike minister Vassil Ivanov, most of the sports figures did not say anything about our good performance and instead began to produce excuses, at that boringly dull - bad judges who hamper all Bulgarians and help others, or the bad State which does not spend sufficient money on sports. Concerning the first excuse, it was a fact for quite a number of Bulgarian participants in Athens 2004. Bulgaria's best gymnast and Olympic silver medallist Jordan Jovtchev was deprived of the gold he really deserved. The Bulgarian team of rhythmic gymnastics was ranked third by the judge panel, although it won the acknowledgement of all experts (their performance was admired and called by 'Ekip' the real rhythmic gymnastics, and according to Eurosport their combinations were much more difficult than those of the Russian team, which swept the gold. For others, such as Nazaryan for instance, the judges factor was born from the typically Bulgarian incapability to admit our failures. But even if we accept as a fact judges' biased scoring, the reasonable question then would be why we don't do anything about it. After all, Bulgaria used to have strong positions in many international federations. Twenty years ago any expert would laugh at hearing that Bulgarians could be misjudged in rhythmic gymnastics, or wrestling, or boxing. Who is to blame for losing those positions now? The answer is only one: the people who headed the respective sport federations in Bulgaria. Now it is too late.Romania's recipeAs far as the financial problem is concerned, it exists of course. It is clear that countries from the Eastern Bloc were not able to maintain the level in sport from socialist years. Among the difficulties of the transition period culture and sports quite logically retreat, making way for sectors of priority importance. That happened also in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania. But in neither of these countries they ventured to write down what has been established with hard labour and much money. They filtered out the sport of secondary importance (such as hockey and handball were in Bulgaria), but maintained the disciplines which had already become national symbols (swimming, water-polo, and handball in Hungary; gymnastics - in Romania, etc.) What were the consequences? Let's make a comparison with the results from the 1988 Olympics in Seul, considered the highest peak in socialist sport. Bulgarian swept 35 medals then, including 10 gold, and ranked 7th in the final medal count list of all participating countries. Sixteen years later the number of our champions dropped five-fold and we stepped 26th positions down in the medal list. Hungarians had 11 champions in Seul and now they swept eight gold medals in Athens. Romanians won seven gold medals in 1988 and eight in 2004. And we could certainly say they do not have more money than their Bulgarian colleagues. Just the opposite. Until two years ago the national coaches in gymnastics were not even on pay-roll and made their living on what they could. In 2001 the Cabinet in Bucharest finally voted a regular remuneration for them, although a modest one - USD130 per month. In addition, sportsmen are entitled to USD6 per day for food and USD4 a day for medicines. The awards for an Olympic champion is USD25,000 vs. almost USD70,000 in Bulgaria, and only USD4,500 for a world champion. But this does not hinder the development of Romanian sport. On the contrary, we saw many new names in Athens, newly hatched talents, while Bulgaria counted on participants over 30 (such as Jovchev, Neikova, Grozdeva, Nazaryan, Kiryakov) to win medals...Speaking about Hungary we should admit more money is earmarked for sport there - about EUR100,000 per year. But this amount includes mass sport activities, maintenance of equipment, and even football, which has long ago passed into private hands. At that, the State budget allocates just a quarter of that amount. The bulk of the money comes from the municipalities and big sponsors. As in Bulgaria, attempts to obtain tax breaks for sports sponsorship have so far failed, but nevertheless, private companies give millions to the best athletes each year.Where does the money go?Bulgaria's big problem is not the lack of money. There is sufficient money, and as minister Ivanov underlined the Bulgarian sport has not received such enormous subsidies for quite a long time. From the BGN14MN budget this year we have distributed almost BGN18MN, Mr. Ivanov said. Twenty two per cent of the proceeds into the Bulgarian Sports go directly to assist Bulgarian sport, another 8% help it indirectly. BGN22.4MN has been set aside for preparation for the Olympics over the last three years. If we venture to make a somewhat broad calculation, it will make BGN1.86MN per medal won. The Wrestling Federation got BGN800,000 from the budget in the January-July 2004 period, and the result is only one medal for Nazaryan, whose training was financed by Grisha Ganchev. Field-and-track athletics received almost the same amount of money in order to send to Athens Ivet Lalova, Daniela Yordanova, and 18 more vacationers, who dropped out as soon as they stepped onto the stadium. At that, we knew in advance they would drop out. So not a single medal was won by a team of twenty athletes! Sweden was represented in field-and-track athletics by 11 contenders, who won three gold medals.The truth is that most sportsmen saw a tiny part of the above-mentioned amounts of money. Ivo Yanakiev, who won a medal in rowing, complained he had been using the same old vessel for 12 years now and did not even have money for new oars. The young gymnast Philip Yanev also faces financial problem. Thus, the inevitable question would be: On what has the federation spent BGN460,000 this year, having in mind that one of its competitors trains in the USA at his own expenses and the other has no money. That is the big problem - where does the money intended for sports go? And who will finally impose some control on the heads of sports federations? We should not be waiting for other achievements as in Seul until such questions find an answer.