5 years ago Sergey Shishkarev was elected President of the Handball Federation of Russia (the HFR).

On April 7, 2015 the businessman headed the Handball Federation of Russia. Over the past five years, the sport has taken a big step forward, and the women's team has achieved phenomenal success - it won the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. First deputy Сhief editor of Sport Express Dmitry Simonov and the Сhief editor of Evgeny Slyusarenko interviewed Sergey Shishkarev. They discussed the past and the future of handball in our country.

Initially, the conversation was supposed to take place at the President’s office in the center of Moscow, but the situation was rapidly evolving - a self-isolation mode was introduced just a few days before a scheduled meeting. Following the recommendations, the meeting was held in via video conference. The conversation started with a question that almost everyone asks: “When will it all end?”.

I don’t want to be like a man on the street who, having read various information, compares everything that happens in different countries and makes a mid-point forecast. But I can say one thing: according to the unprecedented measures that the authorities are taking (self-isolation, building hospitals that they plan to set up by May), it is clear that it won’t end soon. It is difficult to predict the dynamics of the disease spread in the country. According to the official figures, the epidemiological situation is deteriorating in Russia.

How did the coronavirus pandemic influence the global and Russian handball, as well as you personally and your business? 

In accordance with all recommendations, we suspended the Russian championship. When this decision was announced, it was hard to imagine how fast the disease would spread. At that time, it seemed realistic to us to complete the championship in May-June. However, the situation is far from normalizing: the self-isolation has been extended until the 30th of April, the matches of the national teams and European cups are rescheduled not just for the summer, but even for the fall... It is very likely that we will not be able to resume the competition until June.

We hear, see and respond to all suggestions, and consider different options with all participants of the Russian Championship. I am in touch with the European and International Handball Federations. The other day we spoke on the phone with Dr. Hassan Moustafa (the President of the International Handball Federation) and Mr. Michael Wiederer (the President of the European Handball Federation). It is logical that no one has an accurate forecast on the development of the situation in the world, so everyone is limited to intermediate solutions.

We, in turn, cannot make final decisions before our leaders - starting from the Government of the Russian Federation and the colleagues from the European and International Handball Federations announce their plans. As soon as the question on the Russian Championship is clear, we will announce that. But I can assure you that we want to adhere to the sport principle. Considering this point of view, we need to complete the competition with playoffs. The calendar allows us to determine the strongest teams fairly and in a short time. So, I hope that the Russian Championship will return this season and will please the fans with the most interesting matches.

As for Delo Group, we are the largest Russian transportation and logistics holding company and we are on the frontline, the situation is also complicated for us. Despite forced restrictions, containers continue to run, vessels to be loaded and unloaded, as foreign trade and cooperation between enterprises cannot be stopped. Now we are finalizing the ownership of TransContainer. And we will have to deal with the emergency response to the epidemiological situation as well as pleasant responsibilities for the Company’s development. This company handles a large amount of transit cargo via ports and operates at checkpoints on the border with China and Kazakhstan.

The company, together with the regional authorities, introduced measures to check the crews of arriving vessels with cargo, trains arriving in our terminals. We are doing our best to protect our employees involved in cargo handling. There has been an accident recently. Six people on board of our partner’s vessel were running a high temperature upon arrival to Novorossiysk. Doctors came to this vessel, took tests and sent them to Krasnodar for verification. Quickly enough we received the results – they were common colds.

An emotional approach prevailed when choosing a name for the Moscow club

Was the rescheduling of the Olympics to 2021 a disappointment or a good thing for us, taking into consideration some athletes’ state of health?

The rescheduling of the Olympic Games cannot be perceived outside the context of what is happening. If they were shifted due to some other reason, it would be very disappointing. Sure, it cannot be perceived as something good. The only thing is that by 2021, we will indeed be able to recover several important injured players - first of all, I'm talking about Dasha Dmitrieva.

But, unlike other tournaments, here we have at least clarity with the period of the Olympics. I see it as a positive. But of course it would be best if we didn’t have the coronavirus situation. I think we have a good team. That is why I joked with colleagues from the Netherlands national team - they may wear the medals of the world champions, but we will see who is really the strongest in August (Russia dramatically lost to Holland in the 2019 World Cup semifinals in December in Japan). The Netherlands are lucky in this regard - they can rejoice at their medals until 2021.

Another recent event. The renaming of the handball club “Spartak” to “CSKA” made a lot of noise. Why did you need to do this? And how do you estimate the reputation risks of the club?

When the idea of ​​creating men’s and women’s handball clubs in Moscow was discussed, the main task was to revive handball in the capital, where there is a great potential. Many people know my love for the football club “Spartak”, to which I take the oath of allegiance once again. I can recite the team composition by heart in the 1980s and 1990s. I can’t describe the emotions I felt when I had the opportunity to play football together with Spartak legends. I admit that an emotional approach prevailed when choosing the name for the handball club, and we decided to name the handball team “Spartak”. At that time, there were good partners who oversaw the relationship between the federation and the handball club “Spartak”. We contacted with the Vice President of the football club Nail Izmailov, we have been working together with Sergei Mikhailov for a long time.

But I want to explain our position with the renaming of Spartak from the viewpoint of the Federation and the person who deals with many problems of the Russian handball. The biggest infrastructure challenge that our team and I faced with is the construction of a handball “home” in Moscow. Today, we are homeless, because we do not have a single hall in the capital. We plan to build a top class arena for 6-10 thousand spectators, also a home for the office of the Handball Federation, a museum, additional halls for training camps and a hotel.

The commercial part is also important, so that the sports fans have the opportunity to have a good time, walk, relax. And when it is possible, we would like to use the hall for concerts and competitions in other sports. Many people know that we considered the option of building an arena near the Otkrytie Arena stadium. Even a concrete foundation of a building has been laid down long ago. But even with the project and territory we could not move forward.

It is not a secret that we have developed good and productive relations with the Ministry of Defense since the handball appeared in the capital. The launch of CSKA Women's Handball Club is not only the part of our plan, but also a great help, support and ideological assistance. Girls from the main team go to cadet schools with master classes. In turn, the military come to cheer for us. Together with the Ministry of Defense, the HFR plans to build a pyramid of sports training - to hold the Spartakiad of the Ministry of Defense universities, the championship of the Armed Forces among the cadets and so on.

A couple of times, the girls from CSKA were presented as guests of honor when they came to cheer for the Moscow Spartak. I'm talking about the order bearers, honored masters of sports - Dasha Dmitrieva, Ekaterina Ilyina. And in response they got whistles and unpleasant expressions. I do not blame anyone, but there is some attitude towards all of this. And what will happen next? How CSKA players and fans coexist at the same stadium, which will be located near the Otkrytie Arena with Spartak name all over it? Our task is to create the hall for two clubs, and for the national team.

We took into consideration all the above and the fact that working under one administrative structure is plainly common sense, I mean cutting expenses and salary fund decrease. Moscow never knew handball club “Spartak”, Moscow remembers and still loves the 9-time champion of the USSR, handball club “CSKA”. 

Why did they rename the club right now, without waiting for the end of the tournament?

Initially, the whole story with the renaming was planned for the end of the season but it happened after the Final Four of the Russian Cup in Perm, as it became clear that there was a pause for several months in the championship. When we considered all the options, we realized that it was possible to solve all administrative tasks during this pause. If we did not do this, I would consider that we were wrong.

On behalf of the federation, I would like to thank the fans who supported “Spartak” and invite them to cheer for handball, albeit under a different brand. I call you to hear not only your personal arguments based on emotions and devotion. The main thing for us is the development of handball. It is important if Moscow has strong clubs. I assure you, sooner or later, handball matches in the capital will have full houses. 

However, the Chekhovskie Medvedi are presenting themselves as the heirs of the male CSKA. Have you noticed jealousy from this club?

During my five-year as the President of the Federation, I have never heard what this “presenting” of the heritage looks like. As for jealousy, no way around it. We are talking about the threat and the imposition of a competition, as CSKA is strengthened in the last transfer window.
It was necessary to enable the players of national team to play together more often. Igor Soroka, Pasha Atman, Vitya Kireev need this. The Chekhovskie Medvedi understand that their dominance may end due to such strengthening of CSKA. There might be jealousy and fear. But if you are for handball, be ready to lose gracefully. I do not call for this - let the strongest win, but we must be ready for this. The main thing is that this jealousy does not turn into aggression and it is to be directed to the development of our sport. The competition in men's handball is very important.

It seemed that the national team needs new blood

We would like to hear your opinion on the foreign Head Coach of the men's team –Velimir Petkovic.

Let's start with the fact that this year we showed one of the worst results at the European Championships (the team lost all three matches in the first round). Only 2018 was worse when we were not qualified to the continental championship at all. We assumed and hoped that our handball players from the Macedonian club Vardar would join the Russian national team. There were 6 players in the national team who had a good opportunity to play well together. Sergey Samsonenko (the owner of Vardar) sincerely wanted to help, but his personal financial problems predetermined what happened to this club. This was reflected in the condition and mood of Eduard Koksharov, and, consequently, in the performance of the national team. Moreover, a number of mistakes in the preparation for the European Championships were made.

After that, we began to search for a man who could lead our team. I have a strong belief that there is no such a man among the specialists who are at the helm of the Parimatch Super League teams. Theoretically, it was possible to consider Vladimir Maximov, and conversations on this topic were going on, it is not hard but rather wrong to step into the same river over and over again.

It seemed to me and to my colleagues that we needed the new blood - a person who is able to approach the subject in its entirety and to concentrate on the national team without combining with club management. A person who will try to strengthen the handball system in our country, not only the team.

The first right candidate for this position was Alfred Gislason, and we did come to negotiations. His arrival in Russia was no secret to anyone. As soon as he returned to already native to him Germany, they called him from the local federation and also invited him to negotiations. There he discussed the issue of his appointment as Head Coach of the German national team. Alfred immediately informed me about this, he behaved honorably. Alfred made his choice in favor of Germany. There is no offense.

There were several other candidates - four foreign coaches, and after consulting with many experts we have chosen the Serbian Velimir Petkovic who also had an expertise in German handball. The coach is strict, consistent, but at the same time able to work correctly with players. This is a big challenge for him, and we needed a man with fiery eyes, who had already proved his proficiency at the club level.

We have been talking to him for three hours, he presented a vision of working with the national team and with other coaches. We have a great past, but no great present, as many Olympic champions who could have become successful coaches have not received proper practice in this profession. Now Velimir and I are in touch, he does not lose time - he learns Russian, draws tactical schemes, consults with the club coaches and is ready to work with everyone.

You have spent five years as the President of the Federation. Will you build something new in the next five years?

The election Conference will estimate my own and my team’s work. I also think that it should be evaluated by the teams, fans and specialists who care about handball. As for the past five years, of course, there was no time to relax. When I first came to the Federation, a dozen tasks had to be solved in parallel.

Firstly, it was necessary to deal with the legacy that I received, to disband or reform the team, offering my ideology, to get an understanding of the budget and the conflict situation in the women's team. I think many people remember the 2015 rejection letter. The national team almost did not exist: Evgeny Trefilov and the girls were separated. It had to be fixed quickly, because the qualification matches of the World Championship began three months later. It was impossible to get to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro without them. What can I say, if email box with international correspondence for all years was “accidentally” deleted in the fall of 2015.

Therefore, the five-year period went on too quickly. I divide it into the following stages: 2015 was getting up to speed, 2016 was the Olympics, then post-Olympic development - ensuring and adjusting internal issues, namely the national championship, as well as thinking about Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. I really wanted our men to be there. The fact that they did not succeed is the biggest disappointment for me for the entire period of work in the Federation.

At the time of my arrival in the HFR, the budget was 20 million rubles. In the first year of my presidency, it amounted to 90 million rubles. And now it has increased, for which I want to thank separately the General Director employees of our commercial service. We learned how to work with the sponsors, and today the Federation has a well-balanced budget. It was an achievement for us when the match between Spartak and the Chekhovskie Medvedi was broadcasted on the federal channel. We no longer asked them to show us or paid for production. We received money for broadcast rights, although not much.

Certainly, over the past five years, the presence of handball in the media has changed dramatically. We regained its rights, returned the audience interest. By the way, the ratings are pretty high. It seems that the match Rostov-Don - Metz in the Champions League was completely comparable to the game of St. Petersburg “Zenith” by rating. And there is no need to talk about how many people were cheering for our Olympic team.

I cannot overlook the handball development program, which was adopted after my participation in the State Sports Council in 2016. Yes, it is not about financial resources, but, nevertheless, we have the right ideological document and a guidance for the next five years, and we are working on it.

The sports results are the main concern. First of all, victories in many competitions, mostly in women's handball. Among them, I especially outline the gold medals of the Olympic Games and the gold medals of the Youth World Championship among girls in Kielce in 2018. At the club level - Rostov-Don performs in Eurocups: winning the EHF Cup in 2017, reaching the Champions League Final4in 2018 and the final in 2019, when only one ball left separated the team from the trophy.

There were also many disappointments that I don’t want to remember. The scandal of 2017, when several girls from our youth team U-19, following good performance at the EURO where we won silver passed positive doping tests. Three athletes means loosing the medals and the disqualification of the team. This took a huge amount of energy. For example, we had talks with all members of the team, with leaders and trainers, with the consent of the girls, we checked them on a polygraph and clearly established that they did not use meldonium intentionally, it was not their initiative. Then we began the work in three directions.

Firstly, it was necessary to resolve issues with the European Handball Federation and to appeal to the EHF Court of Appeal. I went there to prove the innocence of girls not only with words but with proven facts. During an internal investigation led by the HFR, we found out that the drugs were given to them during the preparation for the championship in violation of all instructions and none of the athletes even knew what they were taking.

Secondly, the law enforcement agencies conducted their own investigation on this case. The investigation in form of the administrative case proved that the doctor gave the girls these drugs intentionally. His actual disqualification allowed us to provide additional arguments for the European Handball Federation and the EHF Court of Appeal in the defense of the girls.

The third line of work was minimizing the consequences. Naturally, the medals were not returned to the girls, but their disqualification was limited to 15 months, even though the maximum term could reach four years. The fine, by the way, was also minimal. As a result, all three girls returned to the playing fields and one of them, Antonina Skorobogatchenko, is already the owner of the silver medal of the European Championship in 2018 and is gradually becoming one of the main players in the national team.

Talking about disappointments, I had to endure a lot of unpleasant things, made-up stories about corruption violations, which were “anonymously” transmitted to Vitaly Mutko, then to Pavel Kolobkov.

I think all of this is happening because not everyone likes what we do, where we are going and what we want to achieve.

As for the future, first of all it is necessary to deal with the restoration of the man’s handball. I absolutely do not agree with the statements that it is not available in the regions or that the sports schools do not cope. Children and youth schools may not work as efficiently as with the girls, but the quality training process is ongoing in many regions, including Krasnodar, Togliatti and Perm. However, if the analogy is appropriate, it’s like in football where they need to ensure a smoother transition of 17-18 year-olds to professional sports, as well as to increase the financial and sponsorship support.

In conclusion, I would also like to recall that very important things happened after the Olympics that could be called a success. After Rio a lot of specialists were awarded orders and medals and became honored trainers of Russia.

The Order of Friendship was awarded to Evgeny Trefilov, the Russian President awarded Levon Akopyan with the Order of Merit for the Fatherland Medal of the I Degree, Mikhail Seregin and Sait Almyashev received Medals of the Order of Merit for the Fatherland of the II Degree. I would like to once again especially thank Pavel Sukosyan, Victor Ryabykh, Vasil Tkhorev and the entire coaching staff for helping to unite the women's team, to establish good relationships in the team and to prepare them for our golden Games in Rio de Janeiro. And children's trainers deserve separate words of gratitude, this is their victory too.

I will be nominated for the presidency of the HFR again

Are you going to pay close attention to the development and return of the handball school to the former positions l in the next five years? Now both teams are trained by foreigners. Not everyone agrees that this is a good thing.

Your question is reasonable. Petkovich’s contract stipulates that he must train young Russian specialists who can work at the national team level. And we understand that one of the biggest problems is personnel. This means that there must be specialists who could teach others.

In December of 2019 we held a coaching seminar under the auspices of the European Handball Federation for the first time. It was attended by over 40 people. And they did not just come for a license but really sought to gain new knowledge.

We have an idea to create continuing education courses where mentors would be those great people whom we have already mentioned. By the way, Evgeny Trefilov is already working in this direction. He travels to the regions and looks out not only for promising female handball players, but also for young professionals at Olympic reserve schools to pull someone up to a new level. For example, we already have in a mind a young married couple of handball specialists from Togliatti who are ready to move to Novorossiysk and to work with promising children, with further prospects of growing up to Super League teams level and to train the national team. At the same time, we do not always have sufficient infrastructure -places where everything is equipped for such seminars.

The last men's tournament was a big disappointment in terms of the behavior of players. Is it possible that some of the athletes will no longer be called up to the national team for behavioral reasons, rather than for the sports reasons?

I won't give you the names, but from the first team roster of Mr. Petkovic you will see for yourself. Usually I don’t support the discussion of internal affairs but in this case the mistakes were made by everyone, including. Distrust for the certain people grew in time over several tournaments, but at some point, we did not insist on strict measures.

We had a situation when the national team experienced a division into old-timers and young players. The conversation during training would go like "I am the boss, you are a fool".

It is not right when after the fate of the match can and should have been decided with one throw, and those who did not make it start the next morning with fun and easy heart. There should not be a separate Vardar team and the rest of the national team. After losing to Iceland the chances of leaving the group the players should join forces but not stand there and obscenely tell the team that they should not be upset to loose.

It is simply impossible to accept and humanly understand as a patriot. And I’m speaking very politely about it now. For some people, the flag and the anthem are just empty words. Before leaving for the first match of the European Championship with Hungary I talked with the team. Later, I received a photo showing how one of the players sending emojis on the phone during my speech instead of focusing on what the President of the Federation had to say. At that moment someone even told me “Don’t worry, we’ll go out and rip them all apart.” I believe we had all the chances - the Hungarians could be defeated, and then the Danes too. We don’t know what would happen next, but the chances were missed.

Now I mentioned a few details that would be enough for a book. But when the time passes I will be forced to tell everything. This won’t be too pleasant for those who read about themselves, because I will tell how it all came about. It is a shame for those guys, for the generation that lived a handball life, winning something in foreign clubs, but nothing for the Russian team.

We would like to know how Evgeny Trefilov’s affairs and well-being are, especially in light of the coronavirus?

My life is unthinkable without Evgeny Trefilov! We communicate every second day. And the mandatory topic of our conversations is his health. I will not hide the fact that in the autumn I had to insist and drag Yevgeny Vasilyevich to Amiran Revishvili in the Vishnevsky center to check his condition. This trip to the doctor was very timely and among other things these two people came together as great representatives of their professions.

Evgeny Trefilov was given recommendations; six months after the operation, the list of drugs was updated. His health is adequate now. I strongly recommend him (and he returns the same recommendation to me) to monitor his weight, to be less nervous, because the heart of such a passionate person cannot endure everything. After all, he continues to work as the honorary president of Kuban, periodically visits the team and provides coaching corrections both in half-times and after the matches.

Trefilov is actively working in other areas. He is changing exactly in the direction of what we expect from him: the transfer of experience, work with the young generation. He is already trying to pull someone up to his level. Although his jokes and stories about the collective farm, the chicken coop and the motorcycle are famous among journalists and fans, Trefilov treats the new position highly professionally with proper organization and structuring of the teaching process for coaches and executives. I am very grateful to him. At the same time, I want to note that he does not interfere in the work of Ambros Martin, respecting his right to lead the national team. Trefilov only gives recommendations when necessary, telling us about his observations.

Will you be running for election at the HFR for a new term? And how will the Conference and the elections be held?

There are two fundamental issues. According to the rules, we must hold it after the Olympics and before the end of the calendar year. But the Games are rescheduled. On the other hand the Conference elected me and the Executive Committee and appointed the CEO for a four-year term in December 2016. We decided to focus on the Russian legislation, which means we will hold a Conference this year.

If the situation with the coronavirus pandemic calms down and we start working as usual, we will hold the conference traditionally in December, in the pause between the competitions. Or maybe we will confine it to some interesting handball event that will take place at this time.

Certainly, I will run for the position of the President of the HFR again. I hope that I will be trusted and elected and all those opponents whom we recalled will not create serious obstacles. On the other hand, you know that I am a fighter, seasoned in political battles and ready to fight. However, I think that it will not come to this.

I am always ready for a dialogue, I am able to listen and don’t want to become a know-it-all, I don’t want to appear the greatest handball specialist, although I could and had to dig deep into the professional field over the past five years. We always listen to everyone who comes to us with the desire to help and interact.

And we are ready to cooperate with such people. I will be glad if a civilized discussion takes place in the framework of the Conference, without shouting, as before. I always like to finish what I’ve started so I wouldn’t want to drop everything mid-way.

Do you think the current cooperation with the International Handball Federation and the European Handball Federation is satisfactory and promising for Russian handball?

We strengthened our relations in partnership with the Delo Group that became the Title Sponsor of the DELO WOMEN’S EHF Champions League. To tell the truth, these are quite different figures than in men's handball — the costs are much lower. However, from the point of view of marketing and evaluation as the owner of the company, this is a very useful and necessary collaboration, because our brand can be seen both during the broadcasts and in branding. So, the relationship is close to perfect. As a Federation, we are respected by both our European and international partners and grateful for cooperation.

At the end of February, President of the European Handball Federation Michael Widerer made an official visit to Russia. He met with the President of the Russian Olympic Committee, with representatives of the HFR, he visited our terminals in the port of Novorossiysk, met with the executives of the Rostov region, visited an interesting Rostov-Don - Metz match and witnessed how we organize handball games and support this sport. Mr. Wiederer was happy with what he saw in Russia.

We are always in contact with Dr. Hassan Mustafa - writing, calling, especially in these difficult moments. We planned that he would come to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Moscow Olympics. But, apparently, this visit will not take place because of the coronavirus. However, I remind you that in recent years Dr. Mustafa has been to Russia twice - for the 2015 Youth Men’s World Handball Championship in Ekaterinburg and for the 2016 Olympic Qualification Tournament in Astrakhan.

And I hope Dr. Mustafa will come to us again. We continue to work together. The International Handball Federation is implementing its programs for the development of handball andis actively helping our handball schools with the equipment: children's handballs, gates, vests.

I should note that Mr. Mustafa was very concerned, and warmly interested in Trefilov’s health. In their conversation, I acted as a translator.

By the way, the work of Evgeny Trefilov is highly recognized by the IHF - he was presented to the Highest Award of the International Handball Federation.

Source – SPORT EXPRESS dated 07.04.2020.