Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 22

Is the Kremlin planning to kill two birds with one stone by replacing the independent TV-6 television channel with one devoted to one of President Vladimir Putin’s main passions–sports? On January 29, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko announced that Putin had ordered the government to study the feasibility of creating a national sports television channel. Meanwhile, the State Council, the consultative body made up of regional governors, met yesterday to discuss a three-year plan for promoting sports and fitness nationally. Addressing the council, Putin stressed the importance of reviving “the habit of being in shape,” arguing that fitness is closely linked with improving quality of life and the country’s economic and demographic situation. The council approved a plan to create a presidential Committee on Fitness and Sports (Moscow Times, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 31).

Against this backdrop came indications that several sports-related entities are planning to bid for the license of TV-6, the dissident national television channel that was taken off the air last week. Oleg Aksenov, head of 7TV, an obscure sports-oriented TV channel with reported ties to the Interior Ministry and the Kremlin, said that the channel would take part in the TV-6 license tender, which is set for March 27, if it received support from the State Sports Committee and the national Olympic Committee. Were it to win TV-6’s license, 7TV would create “a full-fledged sports channel,” Aksenov told Kommersant. In a subsequent interview, Aksenov denied having spoken to any government officials about participating in the TV-6 auction, but added: “What is going on today in the State Council and the issues that are being raised in connection with the problem of developing sports in Russia only confirms that… the sports television niche in Russia has not been filled” (Kommersant, Radio Ekho Moskvy, January 30).

Russia’s Olympic Committee, meanwhile, was making noises that it might create its own sports channel. After signing a partnership agreement yesterday with Lukoil–Russia’s largest oil company, which is also a minority shareholder in TV-6 and sued to have that channel liquidated–Olympic Committee president Leonid Tygachev told reporters that he would not “turn it down” if “someone offered him” TV-6’s license. He added that he would use it to create a sports channel in partnership with Vagit Alekperov, Lukoil’s chief. Alekperov, who also took part in the press conference, refused to comment on the TV-6 controversy (Moscow Times, January 31; Polit.ru, Kommersant, January 30).

Press Minister Mikhail Lesin told reporters during yesterday’s State Council session that he “completely ruled out” the idea that TV-6 could be made a sports channel without holding the tender for the channel’s license. His comments, however, were ambiguous. They did not seem to rule out the winner of TV-6’s license creating a sports channel (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 31). Just hours after TV-6 was taken off the air on January 22, Lesin ordered that its programming be temporarily be replaced with sports programming from the NTV-Plus satellite television channel (see the Monitor, January 22). Putin has been giving a lot of attention of late to the issue of sports. On January 18, while meeting with members of Russia’s Olympic team, he stressed how important it was to develop Russian sports and rebuild the country’s sports infrastructure. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, he pointed out, few sports or Olympic installations remained in Russia. Putin also said that it was “absolutely unacceptable” that only 10 percent of the population was involved in sports and fitness. “This is the lower limit, a further lowering is impossible: it would have a ruinous effect on the nation’s health,” Putin said (Regions.ru, January 18).