Janez Kocijancic attended the 45th General Assembly of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) in Minsk in 2016 as acting president of the European Olympic Committees. With his active participation, Belarus got the right to host the Second European Games in 2019. One of the most influential sport functionaries in Europe was elected President of the European Olympic Committees in late November 2017. In an interview to BelTA during his recent visit to Belarus Janez Kocijancic spoke about his satisfaction with the pace of preparations for the forthcoming sport forum in June 2019 and shared the organizers’ plans for the near future.
— Minsk is the first city you have visited as President of the European Olympic Committees. Why?
— The EOC is happy with the pace of preparations in Minsk for the sport forum. We are on schedule. Of course, there are issues but they are not global in nature and are addressed in the working order. The organizing committee is a good team. The directorate of the fund of the European Games consists of professionals. The EOC is on the same page with Director of the Fund of the Second European Games 2019 Georgy Katulin and cooperates closely with First Vice President of the National Olympic Committee Andrei Astashevich.
— During your visit to Minsk you met with Belarus President, President of the National Olympic Committee Alexander Lukashenko, and Prime Minister, Chairman of the National Organizing Committee for the European Games Andrei Kobyakov. Those meetings were fruitful, weren’t they?
— Indeed, they were. During the meeting Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko stated that Belarus is able and ready to host the European Games at the highest level. The EOC does not see any serious issues in the organization of the European Games.
— You are actively involved in the preparation for the European Games in Minsk. In your opinion, what else does the organizing committee need to focus on?
— Huge preparatory work was done at the First European Games in Baku. The situation with Minsk is different. The Belarusian capital has already hosted a lot of international sports events, including the 2014 IIHF World Championship, different world cups, European championships. This experience is invaluable and helps in the organization of such a big event. You have everything under control and on schedule. The EOC has no serious complaints.
— The European Games contract between Minsk and the EOC was considered in detail. Does it envisage everything necessary?
— Belarus took a very serious approach to the development of the document. This is why the signing of the document was postponed. It was necessary to coordinate every position, be it the marketing sector or television broadcasting. As I have already said, there are no insignificant details in the preparation for such a large-scale project.
— Do you think the division of marketing rights (50%) with the organizing committee was the right decision?
— We are satisfied with the agreement. Belarus got the marketing rights inside the country, while a special agency will be in charge of the international promotion of the event. This issue is very important and it required close attention.
— Do you think the Second European Games will be interesting for European fans?
— Of course. I have no doubt about this. Europe has strong traditions in sport. The EOC has repeatedly stressed that European athletes win a big part of medals at major competitions. The popularity of the sport among people has been growing. So I have no doubt that the European Games in Minsk will be interesting both for fans and also athletes.
— Does the EOC have any estimates as to the number of sports fans from other countries who will come to Belarus in June 2019?
— The exact numbers are hard to predict now. I think they will be thousands. For your country it is a great opportunity to showcase your tourism industry. The hospitality of Belarusians is already well known in Europe.
— Many sports at the European Games 2019 will offer qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Will this help attract more top athletes to the games?
— The European Olympic Committees held serious negotiations with the sports federations. We reached an understanding with the federations. Ten sports will offer qualifications for the Olympic Games 2020 in Tokyo. Athletes will not fail to take the opportunity to come to Minsk and win an Olympic license. I am sure that Belarus will have a lot of top-tier athletes in 2019. For them this will be a chance to test their strength one year before the Olympics.
— The program of the European Games in Minsk will feature the athletics tournament. Was it hard to reach an agreement with the European Athletics Association?
— We wanted athletics, one of the most spectacular sports, to be featured in the European Games. The European Athletics Association was also interested in this. We have developed a special format of the team competitions which will debut in Minsk in 2019. I think the athletics tournament will be popular with fans and will become one of the most spectacular events during the European Games.
— Doping is one of the most talked about issues in the world of sport today. There are a lot of questions to Russian athletes. Reports on disqualification come in almost every day. Do you think Russian athletes should go to Pyeongchang?
— I am a supporter of the zero-tolerance doping policy. It is wrong to think that the International Olympic Committee, the European Olympic Committees seek to punish the athletes at all costs. We try to protect clean athletes. Only 0.7% of Russian athletes have ever been accused of doping. Does it mean that because of the seven violators the other 993 clean athletes should remain on the sidelines? A decision on Russia’s participation in the Winter Olympic Games will be taken on 5 December. In my opinion, collective sanctions cannot be applied today.
— Slovenia, where you come from, is a small country but is well known for its achievements in team sports. What is the secret behind such success?
— The history of our country has always assumed the fight: for land, independence. These qualities are inherent in the people who live in Slovenia. Competition is in our blood. We have focused on the development of education, culture and, of course, sport. This is why Slovenia is as good in football, handball, basketball and volleyball and often better than other larger countries.
— Are you familiar with any Belarusian athletes?
— I am proud to know the great handball player Sergei Rutenko who played for the Slovenian club Celje. Of course, I have heard of your biathlon star athlete Darya Domracheva who won three gold medals at the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014.