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“Sport creates an opportunity to change our life for the better”

Oksana Oracheva, the General Director of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, gave an interview to TASS where she told us why the Foundation turned to sport and what is the role of sport in public life.

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— Can you briefly explain what this initiative is about and why you have launched it?

— This program demonstrates that sport is an opportunity to change our life for the better. It helps to solve our everyday problems. It helps to solve all sorts of problems, not only problems related to health. Healthy society is our mutual goal.

These problems are problems of communication, inclusion of people with special needs into public life and development of a positive outlook on life. So, you change your attitude to what is going on. That is to say that sport is one more important instrument to make our life better. The program is about this. We want to look at sport through the lenses of concrete projects. What is more important: not only to look at, but find the concrete solutions to these problems and implement them in our everyday life.  

— Do I understand correctly that amateur sport is a priority?

— We are talking about philanthropy. And what is philanthropy? Philanthropy is to help people who are in need. It is possible to help in various ways and also through sport.

— Have you implemented any sport programs? Do you have something you are proud of?

— The program has been launched this year and it is at its initial stage. We decided that the pandemic is not the reason to abandon our goals. But the idea to develop our activities in this area appeared earlier. In 2016, accepting the new vision of the Foundation, we discussed  that it is necessary to expand our instruments and add sport to our activities. This is not a snap decision, but a well-prepared plan. When the pandemic started we asked ourselves if it was necessary to start this program whether we should look at sport from this point of view. And we answered unequivocally that sport became more important. It can contribute more to solution of social issues than it did in quieter pre-pandemic life when we perceived sport as a celebration. These days sport as well as culture is an element that unities people. This is about values, a lifestyle and mentality. Vladimir Potanin, our founder, talked about this many times. And sport is a relevant topic for him.

— The Vladimir Potanin Foundation is involved in many activities. And is sport something new for you?

— The Foundation has been operating for more than 20 years, since 1999. The first projects were educational projects. And this area is still our priority. Also our priorities are culture, activities with museums, philanthropy development and now sport. We are focused not on a priority of one area against others, but on a holistic and complex approach. Because all these areas are aimed at completion of our mission: nurturing creative and talented people who are ready to take social responsibility and complete concrete tasks, help others and themselves and enhance our life. This is a big picture. And when we are looking at the Foundation from this perspective it is logical that sport appears. It is an important instrument contributing to increasing the number of such people.

— Have you ever conducted research whether Russia is a sport country and whether amateur sport is in demand?

— We have conducted research of a different kind.  We wanted to find out what sport projects with a social focus exist in Russia and abroad. We are convinced that it is impossible to start a new project or a program without understanding what is going on in the field. It is possible to adequately meet real challenges only this way. We started our work on the program by studying Russian and international experience. We found out that the number of socially-focused sport programs is increasing in Russia. And participants of these programs set this task.  For example, the project “Dream Skis” has developed from a small project into a movement.  

Nowadays our sportsmen established their funds and use sport as an instrument to solve problems. For example, Anton Shipulin and his foundation are actively involved in philanthropy. The number of such projects is larger than we can imagine. But it happens that people are vaguely familiar with such projects. It may be the case that they are perceived as social, not sport projects. It may be that they are not described in bright colours and talked about. But such projects exist.  We see that we are moving towards the same direction as the whole non-commercial sector in all countries.  There are such universal instruments and sport is one of them. Sport is a universal language. You do not have to know a foreign language to participate. Sport helps to overcome existing communication barriers.

This is a mass movement. Sport for development is a universal topic. It is most certainly that we are not the first but not the last. We follow the global trend. And it is very important to start reflexing at a certain stage of sport projects. It is important to emphasize this component of our activities. This is true for other spheres. We say that education is important not only for an individual but also for community. Education is also important for a region where a university is located. We say that a museum or a theatre today not only satisfies our need in art but they also work with community. This is about people around. And is sport different from this? Sport is also for community.

— COVID struck hard at the sport industry. To what extent has the pandemic influenced the Foundation’s activities?

— I would not be sincere if I had told you that the Foundation’s activities had not been influenced by COVID. It has affected our life and we need to adapt to the totally new conditions.

When we were launching our anti-crisis competitions aiming to help the non-commercial sector during the pandemic, our founder Vladimir Potanin additionally allocated 1 billion  rubles to help the non-commercial sector. We noticed that there were some organizations working with sport among our participants and winners of the competitions. So, there are organizations that did not give up and continue working. And this is great that they told us about this. When we started offering some proactive instruments to various projects, local communities immediately offered sport projects. After staying at home for a long period of self-isolation, we need to reestablish social connections and sport is the best tool for doing this because it implies team work.  It may be a positive component of our work because we realized this. Before this situation we did not reflect on this important aspect of our work. Now we understand this in a better way. So, we can better develop this in our further work. I would say that there is research which demonstrated that sport projects do not exclude themselves from our life. We might think this way sometimes. But people want to participate, continue doing sport and are prepared to put efforts to make this happens.

Andrei Kartashev asked questions, TASS

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