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    RIA Novosti Highlights: Top ten events in sports in 2009

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    Russian fans will probably not say a toast to 2009’s most important sporting event as they ring in the New Year - the failure of the national football team to qualify for the World Cup 2010 shocked the country. RIA Novosti presents the ten most important events in Russian and international sports in 2009

    Russian fans will probably not say a toast to 2009’s most important sporting event as they ring in the New Year - the failure of the national football team to qualify for the World Cup 2010 shocked the country. RIA Novosti presents the ten most important events in Russian and international sports in 2009. 

    During the World Cup qualifying round, Guus Hiddink’s team lost only to their main rivals, the Germans. But they did it twice (1-2 in Germany and 0-1 at home). Finishing second in its group, Russia had to defeat Slovenia in the play-offs to qualify for the World Cup. The country was quite optimistic, to say the least, about the team’s chances of victory. The optimism did not wane even after the 2-1 win at home, which was far from a walk in the park for the Russian team. But the 0-1 defeat in Maribor and the Russian team’s poorly-played and disorganized game was like a slap in the face for Russian fans, and the national team failed to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa. 

    The current situation in Russian football can be best characterized as a “transitional period.” Guus Hiddink’s contract has not yet been extended, and the Dutch coach is waiting to see who will be appointed the new head of the Football Union of Russia. In the meantime, journalists and MPs, disappointed with the national team’s performance, are trying to blame the failure on the negligence and irresponsibility of the players. It appears that in 2010, new people, with their own ideas for the sport’s development, will take over Russian football. 

    Olympic Games arrive in South America

    For the first time in the Game’s history, South America will host the Olympics and Rio de Janeiro will be the location of the 2016 Olympics. Rio won the right to host the Olympics against such candidates as the “heavyweight” Chicago, whose Olympic bid was personally supported by U.S. President Barack Obama during the city’s presentation to the IOC, Tokyo, which promised to hold a “Green Olympics” and Madrid, which enjoyed the support of former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch. 

    By awarding the Games to Rio de Janeiro, the IOC has confirmed once again that the choice of the Olympics host city is not simply a matter of preference or financial commitments, but rather a well-thought out policy of social responsibility. It is the IOC’s belief that the Olympics should not only be a celebration of sports, but should also provide an impetus to the development of the city and the entire country. This was the IOC rationale when it awarded the 2014 Games to Sochi, and the same rationale was used with regard to Brazil.

    Change of leadership in sports agencies

    Government officials have complied with President Dmitry Medvedev’s directive to resign from their positions as heads of various sport federations. According to the president, sport federations must be headed by professional sport administrators, and government officials and ministers can only head supervisory councils. Igor Levitin was among the first to comply with the president’s instructions; the next day after President Medvedev’s speech in Kazan, he asked the Table Tennis Federation to convene a special election meeting.

    Sergei Naryshkin (swimming) resigned on November 7. Vladimir Shamanov left his post as head of the Russia’s Taekwondo Union on November 9.

    Two days later, Yevgeny Murov resigned as President of the Russian Boxing Federation, and on November 16 Alexandre Zhukov quit his job as president of the Russian Chess Federation.

    Sergei Shakhray left his post as head of the National Badminton Federation on November 17, and a day later Nikolai Patrushev resigned as president of the All-Russian Volleyball Federation. On November 23 and 24, Sergei Lavrov (rowing slalom), Dmitry Zelenin (sailing) and Vitaly Mutko (football) followed suite.

    Following their resignations, all the officials took the helm of the supervisory councils of the respective federations. At the moment, only a few sport federations have appointed new heads. Most of them will be holding election meetings in the winter and spring of 2010.

    On December 17, the Russian Olympic Committee chairman Leonid Tyagachev was elected for his third term in office. He was the only candidate for the position and needed 50% of the Olympic assembly’s votes to be reelected. In the end, he received 201 of the 216 votes and was successfully reelected for a third term.

    The same day, the assembly also elected the committee’s entire leadership, including the vice presidents, the general secretary and the executive committee members. Marat Safin, a famous tennis player who recently ended his professional career, was among the candidates for one of the three vice presidential positions, but he withdrew his candidacy a day before the elections.

    He explained to RIA Novosti that he did not yet have sufficient experience to work as vice president and had therefore decided to take a position with the newly established Council for Assistance to Russian Olympic Committee. According to Safin, he doesn’t yet know what will be his new field of responsibility.

    Struggle for clean football

    Russia has joined the competition to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. In 2008 the Football Union of Russia officially notified FIFA of its intention to hold the World Cup, and in May 2009 Prime Minister Putin instructed government officials to prepare an official bid for hosting the 2018 World Cup. First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov was appointed head of the bid’s organizational committee. During a meeting with Prime Minister Putin, FIFA President Josef Blatter said that Russia “had good chances” of hosting the tournament. The Russian delegation submitted its bid to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Cape Town on December 4.

    Now all we need is to prepare and wait until December 2010, when the future world cup host countries are announced. Russia’s main rivals are England, Australia, the U.S., and a joint bid by Spain and Portugal.

    The Russian hockey team won the world championship for the second year in a row, beating Canada in the final, as in 2008. Unlike 2008, however, when Russia beat host-country-and-eternal-hockey-rival Canada in a dramatic match by recovering from a two-goal deficit in the second period, the 2009 final in Bern (2-1 Russia in regulation) was not as intense.  

    Vyacheslav Bykov’s team was again undefeated. The most difficult game was probably the game against team USA with Konstantin Gorovikov scoring the winning goal 77 seconds before regulation time. A second successive title was somewhat taken for granted, and celebrations were not as loud as last year.

    Tennis players winning singles titles

    Despite some setbacks, the year 2009 was largely successful for Russian tennis players. For the first time in her career, Dinara Safina became world’s No. 1 tennis player, despite not winning a single Grand Slam tournament. Maria Sharapova is the only other Russian woman tennis player who has been ranked number one. Dinara stayed at the top of the world rankings from April to October 2009. Svetlana Kuznetsova won her second Grand Slam title at Roland Gaross, five years after winning the US Open.  

    Nikolai Davydenko suffered from injuries in the beginning of the year. He missed quite a few tournaments and took some time to recuperate and regain his form. As a result, he dropped out of the top 10 world ranking. Nevertheless, he had a wonderful end of the season, winning a Master’s series tournament in Shanghai in October, and a month later the final tournament of the year in London. He became the first Russian tennis player to win the prestigious tournament in London

    The Russian national teams’ performance in the Davis cup and the Federation Cup was the disappointment of the year. The men’s team could only reach the quarterfinal, losing miserably to Israel. The women’s team, winners of the Federation Cup 2008, lost to Italy in the semifinals.

    Dances of Champions

    Russian ice dancing couples swept the gold medals at all the pre-Olympic tournaments. At the European Championship in Helsinki, incumbent champions Oksana Domnina and Maksim Shabalin were not able to defend their title due to Shabalin’s injury, but another Russian pair, Yana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitsky, replaced their compatriots at the pedestal, winning the couple’s first European Championship gold medals. Two months later, Maksim Shabalin recovered from his injury and, together with his partner Oksana Domnina, became the World Champions, improving on last year’s results and laying an excellent groundwork for the Vancouver Olympics.

    Another major event of the year was the spectacular return of Turin Olympic champion Yevgeny Plyushchenko to the ice, who surprised everyone with the ease and quality of his skating after a three-year absence. When Plushchenko is in such excellent shape, he can hardly be challenged on the ice by American Evan Lysacek, who still does not perform quadruple jumps, Frenchman Brian Joubert, who changed his coach after losing at the 2009 World Championship, or Swiss Stephane Lambiel, who returned to skating following his main rival’s return.

    Rubin Kazan once again won the Russian football championship ahead of schedule. Unlike last year, when they won the gold three rounds before the end of the tournament, Rubin Kazan only secured the title one round before the end of the tournament. Last year’s success seemed unexpected if not accidental to many, and the team’s management set a rather modest task for the team this year: winning a sufficiently high place in the Russian Premier League to qualify for the European Cups and make a successful debut in the UEFA Champions League. However, Rubin took the lead from the first rounds and remained on top until the end of the tournament, setting a new Premier League record with 10 big score wins. 

    Rubin‘s performance was stable throughout the tournament, with only a few setbacks in late September and early October when the team lost points in games against Tom Tomsk, Amkar, and Lokomotiv Moscow, which could have been due to the team’s debut in the UEFA Championship League during the same period. The team was led by Alejandro Dominguez, who returned to Rubin from Zenit St. Petersburg in the second half of the tournament and was also named the best player of the championship.     

    It is also worth mentioning center back Cesar Navas, who was bought by Rubin to play with Roman Sharonov and reinforce the team’s defense.

    Midfielder Alexander Ryazantsev and forward Alexander Bukharov have also improved their game significantly, and the latter was even drafted for the national team. Naturally, the role of head coach Kurban Berdyev cannot be underestimated. In eight years, he has managed to turn a club from the lower Russian leagues into a strong, European-level team, which was able to defeat and draw with Barcelona in the Champions League.

    Year of doping in biathlon

    A major scandal flared up on the eve of the World Championship, held in Pyeongchang, South Korea from February 13 to February 22, 2009. Ekaterina Iourieva, Albina Akhatova and Dmitry Yaroshenko tested positive for a new generation of EPO, the banned blood booster, during a world cup leg on December 4 and 5, 2008 in Ostersund, Sweden. The biathletes declared themselves innocent. On August 11 the International Biathlon Union (IBU) Commission found the athletes guilty and banned them for taking part in sports events for two years.

    Yaroshenko accepted the verdict but Akhatova and Iourieva appealed against it. On November 13 the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) dismissed the appeals by the Russian biathletes. They have almost no chance to participate in Vancouver Olympic Games, although they both have already filed new appeals to the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland. The court’s decision is expected to be delivered no earlier than next March.

    MOSCOW, December 31 (RIA Novosti)