MOSCOW, August 13 (R-Sport) – Track and field's sagging popularity in Russia has prompted concern at the world championships in Moscow, which have been bedeviled by huge sections of empty seats, but star Russian hurdler Sergey Shubenkov has a plan to perk up interest – nude photos.
Explicit photos of the 22-year-old were published in Russian Vogue magazine earlier this month, before he went on to win a surprise bronze in the 110-meter hurdles on Monday.
“I wanted to please fans, especially female ones, but if any males liked it, I'm also not against it,” Shubenkov told reporters – a statement sure to raise eyebrows in Russia, a country at the center of controversy over a new law banning the promotion of homosexuality to children.
“I wanted to raise interest in athletics and in me personally, so that more people come to the stands. We know that track and field is not as popular in Russia as it is in Europe or America.”
Shubenkov's cheeky tactics appear yet to pay off, however, as the Luzhniki arena was far from full as he won bronze. Official attendance figures for Monday evening are not yet available, but the crowd seemed below the 31,895 who turned up for Saturday's opening ceremony.
Still, those figures are far above average for track and field in Russia. When Shubenkov qualified for worlds at the Russian nationals last month, the vast Soviet-era stadium was all but deserted.