The eagerly-awaited IAAF World Championships are set to open in Moscow’s historic Luzhniki Stadium on Saturday and will continue until 18 August.
All-Russia Athletic Federation General Secretary and Competition Director Mikhail Butov talks to the IAAF website about how the preparations have gone, and his expectations for the huge global event which has attracted almost 2000 athletes from more than 200 nations.
Q: What was the main motivation for bringing the World Championships to Moscow?
A: Moscow is a real sports city and has a long-standing tradition for organising lots of European and world championships; yet, it had never been the host of a World Championships for athletics.
Of course, athletics is the number one Olympic sport and lots of people in Moscow remember fondly the 1980 Olympic Games in the city and there was a desire to return to the Luzhniki Arena in Moscow.
As for the Russian athletes, there was a big enthusiasm from them to compete in a big championship in Moscow. This is a big opportunity for the national team. Concerning all the people involved in organising the event, from the officials to the volunteers, it is a big opportunity for them to be involved in a big international event with fantastic TV coverage.
For me personally, it is the biggest event of my life. I’ve been involved in organising the IAAF World Race Walking Cup and 2006 World Indoor Championships, but never an outdoor World Championships. This is a once in a lifetime chance.
Q: Personally, what is your role during championships?
A: An elephant eats something piece-by-piece and for me the final piece is the competition. During the Championships, I’ll be Competition Director and that is the focus of my attention. I’ll work with the event presentation manager and we’ll be the main managers of the competition for the next nine days.
Q: How successful were last month’s Russian championships as a test event for the World Championships?
A: It was a very important to us, firstly, because it (the Russian championships) is the main competition in Russia each year, and as an additional point the Luzhniki Stadium staged the championships.
It was very important to us, because for many years we’ve not been able to organise the championships in such a big stadium. The championships allowed us to look at all possible issues concerning the track, warm-up area, officials etc. We also had the chance to take a look at work of the event presentation teams for the World Championships. On particular thing was that we received feedback from the athletes concerning the Pole Vault area. We are interested in the athletes’ opinion and we’ll change a little bit of it (the Pole Vault area).
We’ll also change the length of the horizontal jumps area for the World Championships. We’ll increase it by five metres because of a special request from athletes and coaches. Once again it was up to IAAF standard at 47 metres but, for some of the athletes, they were more comfortable if we added an extra five metres. These are all small additional points in our preparation and, of course, it was very useful.
Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of organising the Championships?
A: In my opinion, the Luzhniki is a big stadium and the big question is of spectators (in terms of filling the stadium). We were quite nervous for many, many months but now the situation is much better. We’ll distribute tickets to all available athletics federations and we’ll also provide tickets for younger athletes and their coaches.
The Moscow government have also prepared a special spectators programme as well and now the situation is a lot better. For evening sessions the stadium will be full and we hope it will be a great event for athletics. This was the main challenge for us.
Q: How have ticket sales progressed for the morning sessions?
A: Of course, not as good as the evening but Russian spectators often make a last moment decision to attend. I am sure the situation will change, and it is getting better and better every day. Every day the number of ticket sales increasing.
Q: Are you confident the event will leave a real legacy for Russian athletics?
A: It is important as a federation to help grow the sport of athletics. We hope the IAAF World Championships will do this in two areas. Firstly, we hope the elite will perform to a high standard and, secondly, we hope the Championships will help build athletics among the youth as a sport for life and to improve health. To do this, we hope to promote not just what is happening inside the stadium but also outside. In the sports complex area by the stadium we plan to organise fans’ zones and special kids’ competitions.
Q: How do you feel the people of Moscow and Russia will respond to the event?
A: It is a big challenge for us because the Championships are staged during a traditional holiday period in Moscow. We’ve organised a promotional campaign on the streets and through TV.
I know a lot of people are coming from outside of Moscow (from elsewhere in Russia) and also from many different countries. The people of Moscow know it is very important sporting event for the year and we’ve received good support.
Additionally, the Luzhniki area is an important place for people to come from across Moscow on a weekend to go rollerblading or cycling. It is a very popular place for breaks in Moscow.
Q: What are your personal hopes for the IAAF World Championships?
A: For me, is it something special. I not only love athletics but I also love Moscow. Five generations of my family come from Moscow and it is big honour for me to be involved in the organisation. I hope for a big success for the Russian athletes to maintain the strong tradition from the Soviet days.
However, the main task for us is to inspire young children and make sure they have a big enthusiasm for athletics.
Steve Landells for the IAAF