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The president of the Handball Federation of Russia, Sergey Shishkarev, came to us on the day when the women’s team left for the “Golden League” in France. He came of course with gifts: a golden shirt with the autographs of the Olympic champions of Rio de Janeiro, and a book – an excellent edition which is dedicated to that victory.

– Mr. Shishkarev, is it your idea to publish such a book?

– Not only mine. I conceived it together with Sergey Prigolovkin, our great commentator and journalist, a member of the Executive Committee. We did a great job in a short time and by the New Year we had already printed it. We selected photos very carefully – children’s, family, sports images. Splendid, isn’t it!? Look … It’s Katya Ilyina … one of the best playmaker and one of the most beautiful handball players in the world. And here is Vlada Bobrovnikova, Anna Sen. And so on and so forth… This is one of the best edition on sports in the last 20 years. The victory was gorgeous as well as the book is. We are very proud of it.

– How’s the team doing now?  

– On the eve of the third stage of the tournament “Golden League” I’ve spent the whole evening in Novogorsk where the team was. I talked with Evgeniy Trefilov for almost three hours. His mood was fine and combative. I would even say, it’s too calm before such a tournament. Maybe it’s me who “reprogrammed” Trefilov, saying that the “Golden League” is a test event for us.

– In the third stage of the “Golden League” our national team performs with a rather new team squad. Did you set a course on renewal of the team?

You know, during our conversation, Yevgeny Trefilov mentioned the premature departure from the sport of several girls. Tatyana Erokhina or Olya Akopyan (the Olympic champions of Rio-de-Janeiro) could have continue to play. The exception perhaps is Irina Bliznova. Unfortunately, she had too much injuries. And so the other girls could still shine – they’re not so old to leave the sport.

– The MVP of the Olypmic Games Anna Vyakhireva didn’t play in this tournament. How come?
– She has problems with her leg. It seems that a cyst has formed due to the improper fusion. Some time ago she complained of a pain, evidently there was a fracture. But she is a very strong-willed and courageous girl – she endured the pain and kept playing. Then it became completely unbearable, so Anna took some time to get in shape. She underwent a surgery in Germany, everything was successful and now according to the doctors she needs 3,5-4 months for complete recovery. But we do hope that she’ll get back to the team before the matches with Poland.

 

– Do you keep in touch with those who left handball?

– Of course. I believe we have no right to leave the girls, even if they have finished their careers or their future in sport is undecided. For example, Polina Kuznetsova has been operated. I considered it my duty to pay for her operation, since she couldn’t afford it. I have no right to leave people in the lurch. I care and worry about the whole Olympic team. And I really want to repeat this success with the men’s team. But there is still a lot of work there.

–Are there any prerequisites that our men’s team will become more competitive?


– The Russian men’s national team is very strong now. It gathers a lot of high-scale professionals, leaders of the foreign clubs. Knowing this, it seems even more unfortunate that the men’s team couldn’t make a break-through at the World Championship. Although there were all the prerequisites for this.If it wasn’t the injuries of Sergey Gorbok and Pavel Atman, a questionable refereeing at the 1/8 finals with the Slovenian team, who knows, we might have get in the top-3 of the strongest teams in the world.

In a nutshell, we shouldn’t belittle our men’s team. Of course, now we will make slight renewal of the team. But no one has changed the key goals. The Russian national team has to qualify for the European Championship and after getting there we need to be as high as possible in the standings. Probably for the current generation of players it will be the last chance to achieve truly high results in handball.

«President asked,«Is it the same Shishkarev who wanted to do football»?

– You started managing the Russian handball when it was going through a rough time. Were you intimidated by the number of problems that had to be solved?

– I wasn’t scared by difficulties. I’ve solved many issues in my life: in business and in politics. I had sports projects. Talking about handball I was mostly scared of the uncertainty – I never pretended to be a know-it-all in this sport. People told me that they played handball in school, I couldn’t say the same about myself. I was always keen on football to the bone. But now I regularly play handball, observe training process. I did have to take a pause for some time due to a leg fracture. I’ve got it not on field, just stumbled. But now I’m back to my feet, training.

Getting back to your question, I can say that I was more scared after I got to the bottom of things. I was astonished by the amount of serious problems, unresolved issues and the most important – by absence of any sort of a development strategy. I was amazed by the oblivion in which handball in Russia found itself, regardless its previous successes.

– And there was no turning back.

– And I wasn’t thinking of going back. Because it was not an accident that I came to handball. A number of well-respected people actively agitated me for handball. Firstly, Dmitry Rogozin, my senior colleague and a friend, who’s also a master of sport in handball. This sport means a lot to him. And if he was not a big politician, he would have most certainly become a handball world champion.

It was before the resignation of my predecessor Vladimir Nelubin, who finished his handball career after the failure of the men’s team at the IHF World Championship-2015 in Qatar. Dmitry Rogozin suspected that there’s a space in my mind for one more activity. By that timehe had been  a head of the Board of Trustees of the Handball Federation of Russia for a year and often told me about this incredibly interesting kind of sport, – probably preparing me for the future proposal.

– What do you mean by “there’s a space in your mind”? You had plenty of tasks and obligations without handball.

– At one point, I found myself outside of politics and social projects. Prior to that I was a State Duma deputy, then recreated a political party “Rodina”, launched the project “School of Brazilian football”.

Mr. Rogozin wasn’t the only one who drew my attention to handball. When I was the Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Transport I worked closely with Igor Levitin, federal minister. Later, Mr. Levitin took on responsibilities for sport at the Presidential Administration. One day he asked me: “Why don’t you work on handball?”. I asked if they had conspired with Mr. Rogozin. He said no, and asked me to think about it. I made a joke that if I have a command from above, I will do it. In two weeks Mr. Levitin said to me, “The President approved your candidature”.

– Does it mean that Mr. Vladimir Putin has already heard about you?

– I heard that the President asked, “Is it the same Shishkarev who wanted to do football?”. When there was a change of posts between Fursenko and Tolstykh in the Russian Football Union, I sent a letter about the concept of football development in Russia to the President and he saw it. Probably, he remembered that and said, “If he can manage handball, we’ll give him football”. So, the perspective was clear – the elections, here we go.

– Who else did you discuss the possibility of going into handball apart from Mr. Rogozin and Mr. Levitin?

– I have a long-lasting friendship with Andrey Lavrov, who was a member of the Federation Council representing his region for 6 years. We’re both from the same region – he’s from Krasnodar, I’m from Novorossiysk. We played together for the Parliament’s football team for a long time, I was a left tackle and he was a goalkeeper as usual. I played for this team for 6 years, we held 22 international matches, 21 of which we won and one led to a tie, probably out of political reasons because we were playing with Belarus.

When meeting with Andrey Lavrov I asked what would he say about such possibility. He replied that he would be glad to see me the President of the HFR. Then and now he’s the First Vice-President of the Handball Federation of Russia.

«There is nothing that can compare to Rio golden victory»

– Despite the fact that you are in the handball family for a brief period of time but it seemed to become truly native for you. Is this true love?
– If I start doing something I always treat it deeply and wholeheartedly. I understand that I have to lead the team – the entire Russian handball family – players, coaches and managers.

If I took it as just a part of my social obligations, nothing would be achieved. My approach can be described as “heartfelt” Then, very soon, I realized that it’s impossible not to fall in love with this sport.

– Why handball is so good?

– I like the words of our patriarch Dr. Hassan Moustafa, the President of the International Handball Federation. He asked me, “Tell me, can you fall asleep during a football match?” – “Of course, I can”. – “You can sleep for a while and find out that the score has not changed when you wake up. And what about handball? Close your eyes for one second, open them – and everything’s changed”. He tells that to everyone, even to Zepp Blatter, who was the President of FIFA at that time. So, firstly, we love handball for its dynamics. Secondly, for its intellectuality. And how beautiful this sport is! High level players do increadible magic tricks on field, acrobatics is unbelievable!

– Do you consider victory at the Olympic Games-2016 to be your personal victory as well?

– It is a separate chapter of my life. There’s nothing to compare with it by the heat of emotions and feelings that I experienced during these two weeks. I don’t want to praise or to belittle myself, but the feeling that Iwas involved in this great victory makes me very happy. Surprisingly, only the final was comparatively calm – we were sure we would win. All other matches were on the verge of nervous breakdown!

And regardless, we won  the Olympics after 36 years. It was the pinnacle of the Olympics – the last final of team sports. We knew that almost the entire country watched this game and it was amazing!

– How many congratulations did you receive on that day?

– I had over 300 texts and phone calls and I answered everyone. The last replies I was writing in the plane: I thought it was my duty to thank all people who cheered for us.

Aleksandr Zhykov said during his phone call, “Sergey, congratulations! Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” “No, I don’t”. «A number one person watched this game on the First Channel». He was talking about the President, who watched handball.

“I’ll never forget how Anna Vyakhireva shouted to the world, “Mom, dad!”

– Have you watched again the key Olympic matches?

– It was 9 months ago and I still cannot watch the game with Norway. Just can’t! I’m a grown man but emotions overflow. I was crying together with the girls. I will never forget their happy faces, tears and how Anna Vyakhireva shouted to the world, “Mom, dad…!”

I remember before the semifinals we went to get something to eat and I got a coin rialas a change. Silver inside, golden on the outside. I didn’t want to take it – I had nowhere to put it. But one of the girls told me, “Take it for luck”.

I held it during the whole match. After the game I unclenched my fist and saw the blood, that’s how hard I squeezed this coin in excitement. I was an ardent fan. Sometimes they even told  me, “You’re a President, behave yourself”.

– As far as we know there was risk that the Russian national team will notgo to the Olympics-2016 at all. How did you manage to tackle this situation in handball?

– Oh, I remember 27th of July. Our team was already in Rio and we still didn’t have a permit. At that time I was in the mountains with my family and in one moment I got SMS from Dr. Hassan Moustafa, “Top urgent! Call me immediately!”. I ran around looking for a signal, there was no connection. After about 15 nervous minutes I managed to get through to him to Argentina. He said in a dignified manner as usual, “Congratulations! Tell your team to get ready, everything is clean!”. “Thank you, dear Dr. Moustafa!!! But couldn’t you write about the permit inthis SMS earlier to prevent the heart attack?”.

“I know that Trefilov is tired”

– Did you get a chance to see something else in Rio besides handball? Did you visit other competitions?

– I did get such a chance, but I just couldn’t. Each our match squeezed all energy out of me and I need time to recover together with the girls. Oh, our poor girls… No, of course they’re not poor, they’re happy but at that time it was unbelievably hard for them. A third month away from home, away from families, half of them have children. We counted – for 15 players we have 11 children. Another time zone, another climate, another time of the year…And they are women. One should have a very strong body for that. The tension is immense. The toughest training process in Sochi and Moscow before the Games, flights, pressure, emotions. They went through a lot: cried, missed their relatives.

I would specially note a role of their captain Irina Bliznova. In a good way, she was a mom to all the team – before every game the girls got together without the coach or me and talked. And what’s very important, Irina didn’t let any quarrels get between them. Some rivalry on field or competition among clubs – she strictly cut off these conflicts.

It was vitally important for me not to let Evgeny Trefilov put pressure on them. Sometimes he can strip the threads.

– So, is Trefilov a good guy or a bad guy?

– Before talking about what kind of “guy” he is, it is worth remembering that currently he is the most titled acting coach in the world. No one can compete with him in achievements. Such people should be cherished. He is a devoted to his craft perfectionist: he spares neither himself nor you. He has a moral right to ask for result because he’s working tirelessly.

Is he doing everything right? Of course not, particularly when he makes personal remarks such as “a blind horse” or “a silly horse”. He should be correctedsometimes but not by everyone.

The most important thing is not to say anything to him for two minutes after the match – you should wait when he’s cooled off and then start talking.

I remember we played with Denmark in the European Championship Qualification, we won,I went happily to the field to take a picture with Evgeny Trefilov, hold him and realized that he didn’t recognize me. He was still there, in the game. After the match he needs some time to recover.

– Before you came to the Federation almost the entire national team wrote a letter asking to replace Mr. Trefilov. Can you imagine such a situation now?

– That letter did exist. The girls, mostly from Rostov, signed a letter saying they didn’t want to work with Trefilov no longer. I think that it was partially the Federation’s fault in appearance of such letter. They should have seen the rising conflict and prevent it. I am confident that today such letter couldn’t appear, and not because I’m so strict and no one can say a word. On the contrary. Now we react to the problem much sooner, before it gets out of control.

Thank God, this is behind us and no one remembers it any more. The girls made it up with the coach. Do you remember a famous Olympic video when they came up to Evgeny Trefilov and kissed him? You see everyone who signed that letter – came up and kissed him. And it was absolutely sincere and coming from the heart. It’s all working differently now.

– Did Mr. Trefilov ever say, “I am tired, I want to quit”?

– No. I know that he is tired. As the President of the Federation I try to lift some of the burden from him. Making him go to the doctor is also my duty. He is not taking care of himself. All the emotions, which he goes through each match, do not come as nothing. This person deserves a special treatment and he shouldn’t be measured by a common standards. There are heroes. If it was up to me, I would give Evgeny Trefilov a title of “Hero of Russia”. And not just for winning the Olympics but for the way he works every day.

– Can you order Mr. Trefilov to include player A in the team and exclude player B?

– Never! There was never a situation when we argued about players. Only the coach should make this decision. I do know a number of examples from different sports when the coaching team has a lot of advisors – sponsors, shareholders, presidents with their requests: choose this one, not that one. It is my moral position – if you don’t trust a coach or you think he’s wrong in some way then be honest and change him, find the one you can trust. I trust Evgeny Trefilov 100%.

“It was me who sang at the State Duma dinner and not Kobzon”

– You’re cheering so emotionally, devoting songs to our players, signing for them – do you enjoy being such an unusual President?

– There’s nothing unusual for me, I’m just like this. And the girls are my family. Yes, I sing. This tradition emerged by chance. There was a banquette at the World Championship in Denmark when we lost one goal and didn’t get into the finals. At that time I did want to be an unusual President, win over the girls and to show everyone that the Russians are here, regardless of the result.

The entire international handball family was there – players, coaches, executives – about 500 people. Some music band was playing. I asked Dr. Hassan Moustafa’s permission to sing and he didn’t mind. I went onstage, asked to leave me solo, sat down at the keyboard and played one of my favorite songs “Musician”. Now they recall this story as, “And then Shishkarev came out and sang for them in English!”…

When we won the Olympic Qualification in Astrakhan the girls told me, “Well, now we can’t do without a song!” And I sang again.

Before the Olympic tournament during the meeting on the 5th of August 2016 I noticed that everyone was so tense and worried. I had already told about the bonuses, still didn’t help. And then I promised them to sing for them if they win. Now they smiled, finally!

– You’re a great singer and musician. Do you have a musical background?

– Not a conservatory of course. I graduated from music school, accordion class, I play keyboards, guitar, write music and lyrics. I have a music studio at my office and together with a band we have a few albums released. I fight with stress not only by the means of sport but of music as well.

– What is the most serious stage you’ve got a chance to perform at?

– The Kremlin Palace! I’m not joking. There was a banquette dedicated to the 1000th meeting of the State Duma. And it was me who was signing, not Kobzon.