All flags flock to St. Petersburg
This March, St. Petersburg hosted three major fencing tournaments: women's and men's World Cup Grand Prix "St. Petersburg Foil" and women's World Cup "St. Petersburg Epee". Five sets of medals were contested – three in individual competitions (epee – women, foil – men and women) and two in team competitions (foil – men and women).
In his opening address to tournament participants, International Fencing Federation (FIE) president Rene Roch pointed out: "During these days the undivided attention of the fencing world will be on St. Petersburg, which is hosting the World Fencing Championship this year."
Alisher Usmanov, president of the Russian Fencing Federation, president of the European Fencing Confederation, and founder and benefactor of the International Foundation "For the Future of Fencing", spoke of the spring tournaments in St. Petersburg as of a rehearsal for the main battle of the pre-Olympic season: "The fact that this year the city upon the River Neva will host the World Championship prompts a conclusion that this wonderful city is gradually turning into the capital of Russian and international fencing."
During tournaments in St. Petersburg, our correspondent Tatiana Kolchanova spoke to the organizer of this event – president of the Fencing Federation of St. Petersburg and president of the company "Open St. Petersburg. Sports Marketing and Management" Mikhail Rydnik.
- "St. Petersburg Foil" took place at a number of venues. How come it was held this year at this large palace – the St. Petersburg Sports and Concert Complex?
- My company organizes these tournaments for the fifth year running. I have taken up this project because as a former fencer I was offended by the previously low organizational level of the tournament that could have led to its closure. First time we also held "St. Petersburg Foil" at the St. Petersburg Sports and Concert Complex, and the following three years at the Winter Stadium. We revived this sports facility, creating a comfortable chamber atmosphere, so everybody, both spectators and athletes, liked that venue. Last year, International Fencing Federation (FIE) president Rene Roch was present for the tournament. He pointed out that the Winter Stadium is as an ideal venue for fencing competitions (by the way, it was formerly a horse stable) and that he has never seen a better location for fencing tournaments anywhere else. We have returned to the Sports and Concert Complex because we are running a rehearsal of the World Championship, which will take place at the same venue. Here you can see the model of the final zone consisting of the final platform and four color zones, where the main events of the championship will take place. The FIE commission worked here for two days, and we have decided to make some changes for the championship. But basically, this is exactly how this zone will look in September in terms of its format.
- How many athletes, coaches, referees, journalists, and catering personnel will come to St. Petersburg?
- There will be more than 1,000 athletes alone. We have the hotel Pulkovskaya, which is closest to the Sports and Concert Complex. It is quite big, designed for 800 guests, but even it will not suffice to accommodate all contestants. Now we are making reservations at other quality hotels so that everybody who comes to the championship will feel comfortable.
- Apart from the competitions, what is included in the program for the athletes, coaches, and referees during their stay in St. Petersburg?
- We have prepared an extensive cultural program. The championship has been scheduled in such a way as to enable contestants and guests to tour the city and its landmarks and visit the marvelous theaters of St. Petersburg. There are a lot of sights to see in St. Petersburg.
- How will you handle the problems of transportation and meals?
- These are not problems, but issues, which we have been solving already and that will be handled during the preparation of this grand event. All meal stations at the stadium have been already approved. The issues of meals at hotels have been resolved. There are no problems with transportation. Perhaps you would like to ask the natural question as to the possible problems posed by the large-scale nature of the event. I must point out that this is not the first world championship that the organizing company "Open St. Petersburg" is staging. We have experience of organizing the largest sporting events in our city. Last year we held the Women's Handball World Championship on four arenas and the billiards world championship. Each year we hold the mototrial world championship. We also organize the world league of beach volleyball. Following the World Fencing Championship in October 2007, we are organizing the 13th International Tennis Tournament – ATP St. Petersburg Open. Our company is a professional organizer of sporting events, so I hope that we will also handle the new fencing project.
- How many employees does your company have? What kinds of services do they represent?
- We have 20 employees. We have the reception service, visa support service, accommodation service, design service, technical equipment service, and the marketing and advertising departments. This arena is so beautiful because the company, which at the time had no experience of organizing the world fencing championship, was required to create a certain style that would be especially appropriate for this kind of sport. This style should be reflected not only in the sport elements, but also in advertising materials and the design of all facilities on the arena. We do this professionally, that is why I have absolute certainty in the quality of my team's work.
- Who is financing the world championship?
- We submitted all documents to Rossport [Federal Agency for Physical Culture and Sport] a long time ago. I have met with Rossport director Viacheslav Fetisov in both cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg several times, and he promised that the agency would support us. According to current standards of government agencies, they can provide only one-third of the budget for the championship. So far the Russian Fencing Federation has not provided funds for the championship. But I count on the support of all the interested parties, because in 2007 in such a large country as Russia only three world championships are held – fencing, hockey, and boxing. All other events have a lower status. For example, we will be holding the world championship in billiards, which cannot be compared to the world fencing championship, of course. Fencing is an Olympic sport with a large number of medals and deep-rooted traditions. I believe that financial assistance will be provided at some point. But I regret the waste of time and nerves on the search for money.
- You had a chance to speak with representatives of foreign teams that will come to the championship in St. Petersburg this fall. Do they like this venue?
- I met with both members of the FIE commission and representatives of most of 32 countries, who came to St. Petersburg. They like everything, the functional layout of the fencing strips, and the arena design.
- Do you think you will be able to attract public attention to the championship?
- I think so, even though nowadays fencing is not the most understandable kind of sport for spectators. Championship participants come with numerous fans, relatives, and friends in tow. There will be almost as many of them as there will be athletes. I believe that the locals will be there to support our fencers as well. Most of the spectators will come to see the finals. For this reason we want to hold the finals in an unconventional manner. The finals will be preceded by a theatrical and spectacular presentation. A small spectacle will be played out before each final bout.
- Who will broadcast the championship?
- The FIE has the broadcasting rights. NTV Plus has been selected to produce the video materials. They have the broadcasting rights on Russian territory. NTV Plus must supply the FIE with a video signal to be distributed worldwide. The FIE will sell it to Eurosport. There are many applications from various countries – France, Italy, Germany, China. With the FIE representatives we discussed the layout of the central fencing strip, the apparatus, cameras, and the location of the referee, so that the fencing bouts could be broadcast in the best possible way.
- I don't see the curtain that is traditionally used as a background during the final bouts.
- Under the new FIE regulations, the spectator stands should be on two sides, which is not very good as far as television broadcasting is concerned. But this is the decision of the FIE, and we are in no position to debate it. Previously it was proposed to hold the finals with the spectator stands on four sides. By decision of the FIE, two stands have been removed to make room for the press center and technical directorate. We installed subdued lighting at the arena, so if cameras are placed at correct angles there will be no problems with visibility. The FIE also regulates the placement of television cameras. Russia has few, if any, directors and cameramen specializing in broadcasting fencing tournaments, that is why the FIE is helping us with the organization of broadcasts. We will buy equipment that will enable us to improve the quality of replays of fencing phrases on television fundamentally. This device is called Super Slow Motion. It was used during the 2005 World Championship in Germany and helped spectators to understand better what was happening on the fencing strip. To simplify the understanding of fencing for spectators and journalists, we plan to issue booklets with materials on the history of fencing, competition rules, specifics of all types of weapons, in order to avoid answer the eternal question: What is the difference between the foil and the epee and saber? We hope that the world championship will prove a milestone event both for St. Petersburg and all of Russia. I look forward to meeting you in September!