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Vahe Sarukhanyan

Sport in Armenia: A Mere Bone of Contention Between Two Political Forces

The Association of Sports Reporters in Armenia (ASRA) has just published its list of the top athletes for 2012.

As expected, Greco-Roman wrestler Arsen Julfalakyan, who won an Olympic silver medal in London, was named the top athlete of the year.

He was followed by Artur Aleksanyan, another Greco-Roman wrestler who walked away with a bronze medal at the London Olympics. In third place was Olympic bronze medallist in weightlifting Hripsimeh Khurshudyan.

There is no doubts that these three are worthy of being recognized as the top three in Armenian sports. Their victories at the London games are not an insignificant achievement for such a small nation as Armenia.

Many fans and sports organizers were baffled, however, that no football player made it to the top ten. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, clearly the best player in Armenia today, wound up in 11th place. Footballer Yura Movsisyan was picked for the 14th spot, Roman Berezovsky the 15th spot, and Sargis Hovsepyan tied for the 17th spot with wrestler Yuri Patrikevi.

Last year. Henrikh came in 4th and Yura in 7th. This year was the best in Mkhitaryan’s football career, so why did he wind up at a lower spot than 2011?

There are two possible reasons. First, Mkhitaryan is a footballer and football is a team sport. Since Armenia’s national team didn’t display such an explosive game as in 2011, the number of votes for individual players decreased. Some pundits hold this view.

However, we cannot forget that our footballers are held in high esteem and widely followed not only due to the successes of the national team, but due to their personal high level of play. For example, the same Mkhitaryan, is perhaps the most recognized and highly rated player in Armenia today. First and foremost, this is due to his successful appearances in team level play in Europe.

From this perspective, footballers are regarded by sports fans firstly as individuals and not members of a team. This, despite the fact that in both cases, Mkhitaryan’s successes are clear – Ukraine champion, cup winner, super cup winner, and chosen the best footballer in many surveys.

It is here that the main reason for the “failures” of footballers becomes clear. This was the first time that the selection process of the ASRA was conducted according to protocol. Accordingly, preference is given, in descending order, to medal winners in the Olympics, World Championships, European Championships, and then followed by other international competitions. Bringing up the rear, are those engaged in mass appeal sports.

It should be also noted that not all sports reporters participated in the selection; it’s as if they boycotted the process. It is well known that the ASRA survey has constantly been a point of contention on the part of some pundits. Those who did take part followed the above described protocol.

If this principle is adhered to, Armenia’s footballers can forget about their chances to appear in the top three spots since athletes in individual sports, say someone who wins a bronze at the European Championships, will receive a higher ranking than those engaged in mass appeal sports.

Naturally, this isn’t all that fair, and we must stress that certain sports reporters, taking into account the veneration of football in Armenia and overseas, ranked non-medal holder footballers higher than any wrestler, weightlifter or other athlete possessing a World or European championship medal.

This year, at least, Mkhitaryan should have won a spot in the top ten. From this perspective, one can perhaps understand Armenia’s Football federation President Ruben Hayrapetyan who, in his own inimitable style, put the organizers of sport in Armenia in their place.

In a press interview after the results of the ASRA survey were published, Hayrapetyan said the ranking was yet another attempt to discredit sports in Armenia and charged those responsible for overseeing sports in Armenia as inept. He said they gave sports a bad name.

What’s going on is pretty apparent. Hayrapetyan was most likely referring to the Ministry of Sports and Armenia’s National Olympics Committee; institutions closely linked to the Prosperous Armenia Party led by Gagik Tsarukyan. Most in Armenia are aware of the long-standing “bad blood” between Republican Party stalwart Hayrapetyan and Tsarukyan.

Even though Hayrapetyan failed to name names in his press statement, he was probably referring to footballers and chess players. Levon Aronyan, the strongest chess player around, came in 4th place in this year’s ASRA survey.  We shouldn’t forget that the Republican Party members, led by President Sargsyan, oversee chess in Armenia.

Thus, the ASRA selection has served as an opportunity for the next confrontation between Republican and Prosperous Armenia forces. Even though Prosperous Armenia wasn’t the one conducting the survey, it got the bulk of the blame, especially in social internet sites, for the stumbling of footballers and chess players.

As we see, it wasn’t possible to avoid the politicization of sport in Armenia yet again or to tarnish such a healthy and honest sector with political mudslinging.

However, we must also recall the tasteless incidents that took place this year at the London Olympics when Serzh Sargsyan’s advisor Yuri Vardanyan rushed to offer an evaluation of the performance of weightlifter Arakel Mirzoyan and the actions of Olympics Committee president Gagik Tsarukyan. This was followed by an equally ugly response by Mirzoyan. Then too, Republican Party MP Levon Martirosyan described the performances of Armenian Olympians as appalling. He, in turn, received a public response from those very same athletes.

It’s tragic but a fact. This situation continues today and will most likely carry on in the New Year to come.

At the hands of the Republican and Prosperous Armenia parties, sport in Armenia has been denigrated into a mere object of wheeling and dealing for cheap political dividends.

Comments (1)

alfred tamazyan
why not give a chance to other sports to be able to nominate their own top athletes. make the the nation more competitive. Include Water Polo. Comment...

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