YEREVAN (RFE-RL)–Senior sports officials and coaches on Thursday blamed Armenia’s extremely poor performance at the Olympic Games in Athens on a lack of state funding and injuries suffered by their top athletes.
None of the 18 Armenian athletes that participated in the games won medals–the country’s worst Olympic showing since independence; several Armenian-born athletes now representing other countries won silver and bronze medals.
The results sparked an outcry from the media and leading politicians who unanimously pointed the finger at Ishkhan Zakarian–the head of the State Committee on Sport and Physical Fitness and the National Olympic Committee–who was accused of incompetence and mismanagement.
In a newspaper interview published on Thursday–Zakarian rejected the accusations–saying he will not resign voluntarily. "I could not have stepped on the arena in place of a boxer–wrestler–or weight-lifter," he said.
Zakarian did not appear at the news conference–but was represented by his deputy Mikael Ispirian who said that only seven Armenian athletes had realistic chances of doing well in Athens and most of them suffered injuries in the middle of the competitions. Asked about the quarterfinal elimination of Aleksan Nalbandian–Armenia’s sole boxer at the Olympics–he said–"Maybe he lost narrowly. But in essence–it was a victorious bout."
"If we felt that resignation would change things positively we would all be ready to quit," Ispirian said. "And if you think that the specialists sitting here are not as professional as you journalists are–then you are wrong."
The coaches–for their part–complained that government funding allocated to sports is highly insufficient for proper training of their athletes. The Sport Committee’s budget for this year is only 350 million drams ($680,000).
"To win medals you need money–money and money," said Vahan Bichakhchian–the head coach of the national weight-lifting team. "What do you think I can achieve with a monthly salary of $50?"