Serbia’s Olympic Sports Director has hit out at a system that allows athletes to lose sight of their priorities and for Serbia to under-perform in competition. “We spoil our athletes because we build some kind of mystery around them, about their behaviour and their needs,’ Serbia’s Olympic sports chief Branislav Jevtić told W!LD RooSTeR during a visit to London.
“Companies invest in them and the athletes are spoiled in some way. They become celebrities, they stop their training and development and, as a result, we have less qualified athletes than we expected. When a lot of our athletes play abroad, no one thinks about their health, their anti-doping or operations. They play only for money. They have a fascination for money and they are spoiled. That is a big problem for us and I don’t know how to solve it.”
Pointing to Serbia’s under-delivery at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai, Professor Jevtić, said: “We are not satisfied with the qualifications we have achieved so far. I mean we have only three athletes qualified for the swimming event, which is not good enough.”
As well as a lack of focus in some athletes, Prof Jevtić puts this lack of results down to Serbia’s apparent inability to grow senior sports stars from its wealth of young talent. “To develop young athletes to a professional high level in a four year period is too demanding for us, we need longer,’ he said. “We are able to develop gifted athletes but we are not yet able to translate that into high results. A lot of Serbian athletes in the younger age group are at the top but in the seniors we are down. We need better staff, better strategy and more science.”
Branislav Jevtić, Chef de Mission of the Serbian Olympic Committee, believes Serbia can learn a lot from looking for help beyond its borders – a move that does not rest easily with many in Serbia who do not believe that they need outside guidance.
“We need to send our coaches and managers abroad to learn and bring it back home,’ he said. “We did that before but now some people are scared. We need to step out of the queue and develop our competence. It is the same in all professions. We have already suffered in areas where we have not sought expertise from abroad. Now it is happening in sport.
“If we followed the UK, it would be very simple to find a solution for good results in sport. They have had a lot of investment in professional staff and in coaching staff. As someone in charge of development, I have tried to copy and implement some strategy from GB. In my opinion, it is very good. OK, you have a lot of money, more than Serbia, but also you develop sports in a professional way. You have a good delivery system, which is very important to developing a professional sports community.
“One big problem with Serbian sport is we have a lot of empires. Probably our first step is to organise one big main body to govern all sports. That is very important. At the moment we have many national federations and most of them are not all able to run their sports. They are voluntary organisations and a mix of politics and volunteering is not a good solution.
“It is a matter of investment and development. We need a strategy but strategy is based on knowledge, and knowledge belongs to high profile staff. So it is very simple. Serbia sport is run by people with great experience but it is not enough for them to be retrospective. We need to understand how to train athletes for the future. As the Olympic Committee we have started on these changes but it has been like one step forward, two steps back. We are an ex-communist country, remember, and that is a Leninist paradigm we learned at school.”
Prof Jevtić was in London to meet with Olympic officials and join the Serbian basketball squad at the International Basketball Invitational, as part of the London Prepares series. While in London, he reflected on Serbia’s attitude towards its athletes and the expectations is places on the one hundred sportspeople who will compete for Serbia at the Olympics.
“If you follow the Serbian press, they are all talking about how many athletes are qualifying for London,’ he said. “Nobody is talking about the quality of those who qualify or how to improve or prepare in time for the Olympics. That is a problem in our society. We must teach our community that success at sport is not easy. We will try our best through organisation, preparation and during the competition, but success is not guaranteed. It is a competition and a lot of athletes share the same dream.
“It is very important for us to remember that, while medals are important, it is not easy to compete with developed countries with more money to spend. We must go for quality of medals, not only quantity. I would exchange two medals in judo and wrestling for one medal in tennis. To win medals is demanding, to be a finalist is demanding. We have good athletes who can do this, but we must also show that, if they fail, that is not wrong. This is a strong competition.”
Prof Jevtić has his own plans for encouraging athletes to aim high, as he explained: “I am trying a new strategy. We will separate our top athletes into the Serbian Gold Olympic Club. That will include Djoković, our waterpolo team, and one shooter. They have shown their ability in the results during this year and before and we expect three more medals from these.
“We will separate them and, for the first time in Serbia, we will say we want gold. Those are our targets. We want gold, no less. To join this club you will need to win a gold medal at the European or World Championship, to achieve a high world standard. Athletes like Cavić will want membership of this club.
“The second group will be medal candidates, who will play in the final and be in a position to win a medal, and the rest will be only participants. That way we will try to show that the capability of the Serbian team is for three gold medals, for medals less than gold in four sports, and we will only participate in these sports we can win. It is good for athletes to develop motivation, to be responsible for these tasks, and to have targets. That is my strategy for the coming year before the Olympics.”