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5 years flew by as one day”. Sergey Shishkarev about Russian wins and losses

Sergey Shishkarev leads the Handball Federation of Russia for exactly 5 years. He talked for Championat.ru about his work and future plans.

He talks about the glorious victories, as well as mistakes and big scandals.

Who “treated” the disqualified players of the women’s team at the 2017 W19 EURO? Why some players of the men’s national team will never play for the team again? How much money the Federation needs? And finally, how’s the health of Evgeny Trefilov?

“Is Federation able to survive on 20 million rubles?”

Mr. Shishkarev, you’re heading the Federation for 5 years now. It is a significant period for drawing preliminary results. How do you assess the results of the 5-year work?

It’s not me who should be the judge of the results but the fans, handball specialists, players and all who care about handball. I can just split the 5 years that flew like a one day into logical stages of development. First stage – 2015 – getting fully and deeply acquainted in the work. Second – start of the 2016 and pre-Olympic period. Third – post Olympic period when we were tackling national tasks and preparing for the next Tokyo Olympic Games. We really wished that our men’s team could qualify for the Olympics, unfortunately it didn’t happen. This is the biggest regret.

Talking about the first stage, there were no time to slowly get up to speed. It was like coming out of the frying pan into the fire. At first, there were a dozen of simultaneous tasks: studying the heritage I received, rebuilding the team, offer a new ideology and lead the people in the new direction. There were also budget issues and a conflict in the women’s national team.

You might remember the exemption letter of 2015. There were no team at the time, Trefilov was separate and the girls were separate. We had to fix the situation given that we were facing the June qualification matches for the World Championship that allowed dreaming of the Olympics. Another challenge was organization of the IHF Conference in 2015. Hungary backed out from hosting the event and we were brave enough to invite everyone to Sochi where we demonstrated our organizing abilities and showed the high guests that we’re able to host large international events.

Interesting example – when I was elected President the HFR budget was 20 million rubles (roughly 340 thousand euro). How do you think the non-profit organization can survive on that with paying salaries to the staff, organizing the events and promoting handball? In the first year we increased the budget to 90 million rubles (4.5 times). We ended the practice of envelope wages and offered the employees higher payments believing that people who get 30 thousand rubles and those who get 130 thousand treat the work and responsibilities differently. Largely it payed off.

What are the main results of the 5-years term you would outline?

The most important thing is a large number of victorious competitions. Mostly in women’s handball. The gold of the Olympic Games 2016, medals at the European and World Championships, and gold at the 2016 Women’s Youth World Handball Championship. One of the highlights is certainly the Rostov-Don performance in Europe: victory in the EHF Cup 2017, participation in the Final4 of the Champions League 2018. And in 2019 only one goal separated our Rostov-on-Don club from the trophy!

One of the achievements over the period is the Program for the Development of Handball that was signed after my participation in the Council on sport development under the President of Russia in October 2016. It is not sufficiently financed yet but it a good program document and a base for our actions for the next 5 years.

Moreover, over the past 5 years the presence of handball in the mass media changed dramatically. We restored the existing interest of the audience. Today you can often see handball at the federal MatchTV and themed channels. The ratings are very promising. The Rostov-Don match in the Champions League was compared to the football Zenit ratings. I’m not even talking about the outstanding numbers that showed how many people cheered for our Olympic team,

“I cannot tell everything but what I can tell that it was a sabotage”

Talking about the disappointments, I’m sure you’ve had a few over the time?

There were a lot of things I don’t even want to remember today. Not everybody joined us in the new direction of handball development. There were several slanderous poison pen letters to government authorities. Vitaly Mutko at a time and Pavel Kolobkov showed me what kind of petty hideousness about myself and the HFR employees someone wrote. Accusation of corruption acts, infringement of ethical norms. Certainly, it didn’t boost the optimism. Not everyone like our success, what we do and what we’re trying to achieve.

But the main disappointment was the doping scandal after the 2017 W19 EURO where our girls won silver medals. Duvakina, Dudina and Skorobogatcjenko were tested positive for a forbidden substance. Three players means disqualification of the team and loss of the medals.

HFR budget in rubles

2015 – 90 mln;

2016 – 210 mln;

2017 – 155 mln;

2018 – 130 mln;

2019 – 195 mln;

2020 – 200 mln.

A lot of effort was put in the investigation of this situation. The girls were voluntarily tested on polygraph with definite conclusion of them not being aware of taking anything forbidden. It was not their initiative. We held talks with everyone on the team, executives, coaches and figured out where this substance came from.

I can say that this was a sabotage. It turned out that during preparations for the championship they were given medicine with the infringement of the instructions. Normally the doctor has to provide everything is a sealed package, so the athletes would see what they’re taking. But in this case all medicine, vitamins and food supplements we given almost in a handful. No one realized what they were taking and why.

We had to turn to the law enforcement. The special service and anti-corruption department was contacted. We conducted an additional investigation as a part of the administrative case and proved in the court that the doctor had given these medicines to the girls on purpose. His disqualification allowed us to provide additional arguments in the EHF and the EHF Court of Appeal, where we proved girls’ guiltiness.

We had to minimize the consequences of this case. Surely, nobody gave back the medals. But the disqualification lasted for 15 months while the maximum period could have been 4 years. The fines were minimal as well. However, we fought for the girls’ fate, not for money. Thanks God, they all have returned to the court. Antonina won the silver medals of the Women’s EHF EURO 2018 and she is one of the key players of the national team. Maria Dudina plays for Kuban and Maria Duvakina performs for Dinamo Volgograd.

 “Petkovic doesn’t lose time and is already learning Russian”

Speaking about disappointments, it’s difficult not to turn to the Russian men’s national team. Velimir Petkovic has been recently appointed to the position of the team’s Head Coach. Why Petkovic? Did you have another candidates? What tasks does he have?

Let’s start from the fact that now we have the worst performance of the team at the European championship. Another failure was in 2017 when we didn’t even qualify for the final tournament. Dmitry Torgovanov and Lev Voronin, the coaches of that team, retired from their posts. In 2019 we all saw what happened. I will tell particularly about the persons who will never play for the national team again and why. It’s clear that the bad situation in Vardar, which was supposed to be the national team’s base club, had an influence on the atmosphere in the team and on mental condition of Eduard Koksharov. Perhaps there were some failures in the training process before the tournament.

After the EURO we had a careful and thorough search for a right candidate for a position of the Head Coach. I strongly believe that there is no such person among the coaches of the Russian men’s Super League teams. Theoretically we could turn to Vladimir Maximov, we even had some discussions on this topic. But I think it’s not a good idea to step twice into the same river. My colleagues from the Executive Committee and I had an impression that we needed a new blood, a person who would have a complex approach without club responsibilities. A person who would concentrate not only on qualification matches, European and World championships, but also would contribute to the overall handball system in our country.

Perhaps now we can lift the veil. The first candidate was Alfred Gislason. The journalists quickly understood that he came to Russia not only to watch some matches of the Super League. Indeed, we had negotiations. Our mistake was that we let this information leak.

As soon as we agreed with him on his working conditions and he returned to Germany, he got a call from the German Handball Federation. There was a long discussion about Christian Prokop’s future. It seemed that he would continue to work in the Bundesteam, but Alfred was invited for the negotiations as well. He is a decent man and immediately informed me about that. It’s important to understand that he has family issues and coming to Russia was a big challenge for him, because we wanted to have more opportunities to be with his family. Alfred honestly told me that if the proposal had been good enough, he would hope for my understanding. I told him not to hesitate, because family is of utmost importance. At the lunch time we had a conversation, and in the evening he called me and told that he would head the German national team. So we did something good for him (smiles). He stays close to his family now and works in one of the top teams.

Medals of the Russian women’s national team at the top international events

  • Gold at the Universiade 2015 (Gwangju, Republic of Korea)
  • Gold at the Rio Olympics 2016 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
  • Silver at the Women’s EHF EURO 2018 (France)
  • Bronze at the World Championship 2019 (Kumamoto, Japan)

So we considered another four foreign specialists for this position. After a long discussion we picked Velimir Petkovic, who has a rich experience of working in Germany. This is a very harsh man, but he can work psychologically with players in the right way. If I am not mistaken, he has never worked in national teams before, so this is a huge challenge for him. And we need a person with big motivation, who wants to prove himself at the next level, because Petkovic won a number of titles in club’s handball.

We had a three hours long conversation, asked several questions, he presented his view of working in the national team, with another coaches. By the way, I consider this this task to be a priority – the Head Coach must work not only with the players, but also prepare a number of coaches who could work in the team in future. We had the great past, but we don’t have a great present because many Olympic champions capable of being professional coaches, did not have enough practice. We had negotiations, prepared a contract, but the coronavirus held us. But we stay in touch with Velimir, and I see that he doesn’t lose time: he learns Russian, draws tactical formations, talks to club coaches, forms a provisional squad and picks newbies. I assess positively everything that he is doing now.

You wanted to tell something about discipline problems in the Russian men’s national team at the European championship.

I don’t think it’s good to air one’s dirty laundry in public. The mistakes which have been made, including the ones made by me, are impossible to fix. I felt lack of trust towards certain players during several tournaments. I blame myself that I did not insist, but now it’s pointless to rake up the past.

I will not tell the names, but I will provide some examples. It’s inappropriate when the team is split into groups of “veterans” and “newbies”; when the conversation during the practice sessions is conducted in the “I am a boss – you are a fool” style using obscene lexicon; when we have Vardar guys and the rest of the team. It was possible to win the match against Hungary by one throw, but the guys who hadn’t managed to make it, were in a funny mood the next day. After the match with Iceland, when we lost all our chances to qualify for the next round, one of the players said using obscene lexicon: “Guys, why are you so sad? Yes, we lost, but it’s not a big deal”. And it’s only a part of the story.

It’s impossible to understand it and to put up with it. Before the opening match I talked to the team, and found out later that one of the guys texted messages during my address. Somebody opposed me, telling me to calm down, assuring that we would beat every team. I feel ashamed for these people. I feel sorry for this generation, who spent the life in handball and didn’t achieve good results in the national team.

 “I can’t imagine my life without Evgeny Trefilov”

Today the both men’s and women’s teams of Russia are headed by foreign specialists. When we will have young coaches capable of successfully working with the national teams?

As I’ve already said, one of the Petkovic’s tasks will be to prepare a number of Russian coaches, who will be able to work with the national team. We already have a short-list. Most probably Oleg Kuleshov, Vitaly Ivanov, Valentin Buzmakov will be in there.

Lack of top-class national specialists is one of the severe problems of Russian handball. In order to solve it we must have people who will teach them. In December 2019 for the first time in Russia we held the EHF Master Coach courses. We had more than 40 attendees, many of them participated with an aim of receiving the appropriate modern knowledge. We have an idea to establish a refresher course for Russian coaches on a permanent basis with Russian and international specialist sharing their practice and experience.

By the way, Evgeny Trefilov is already doing this job. He travels to the regions and looks for the young coaches, working at children’s and youth sport schools. For instance, a married couple of coaches from Tolyatti is ready to move to my native Novorossiysk and to develop children’s and youth handball there, eventually reaching the level of the Super League’s clubs. But we depend on infrastructure. We lack a united complex where we can accommodate specialists and hold there theoretical and practice sessions.

For example, our dear handball friends from France built such a complex and now have everything necessary for the work.

The fans are interested in health status of Evgeny Trefilov, especially because he is in a risk group during the coronavirus pandemic. How is he?

I cannot imagine my life without Evgeny Trefilov (smiles). We talk twice-daily, call each other. Of course the main question is how his health is. In autumn I took Trefilov to the Vishnevskiy Institute of Surgery to Amiran Revishvili in order to check his health status and receive recommendations. Trefilov’s health corresponds with the status of the operation. I ask him to look after his weight and try to avoid feeling nervous. It’s not a secret that he still goes to the Kuban’s locker room and gives advices. Trefilov continues working and changing his approach towards the one we expect from him. I mean sharing his experience, working with youngsters and training skilled personnel.

Surely, Trefilov closely follows the news from the national teams, shares his observations and worries. He respects the right of Ambros Martin to lead the team. Trefilov doesn’t intervene, but sometimes he gives his recommendations. His heart is torn apart when he disagrees. He learnt to share his view in a civilized and professional manner.

In the second part of the interview Sergey Shishkarev will tell how coronavirus will influence Russian handball, why Spartak became CSKA in the middle of the season and why the Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelenskiy could not sleep because of handball.

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