site.btaSport Minister in BTA Interview: "We Have Provided Calm Atmosphere for Athletes and Coaches before Paris 2024"
Vesela Lecheva has been Minister of Youth and Sport for seven months. She took over the post in the caretaker government appointed by President Rumen Radev on August 2.
Lecheva was born on May 20, 1964 in Veliko Tarnovo. She graduated from the National Sports Academy with a doctorate in sports science.
Her achievements in shooting put her among the most significant Bulgarian athletes of all time - silver medalist at the Olympic Games in Seoul 1988 and in Barcelona 1992, five-time world champion, eight-time European champion, four-time World Cup winner, multiple world record holder. In 2007 in Munich, she was voted Shooter of the 20th Century. For the top European, World and Olympic results in shooting Vesela Lecheva was named an honorary citizen of Veliko Tarnovo.
She was a member of the 39th, 40th, 44th and 45th National Assemblies. In 2005-2009, she was President of the State Agency for Youth and Sports. Under her leadership, the institution became the driving force behind numerous programmes aimed at access to sport for school children, as well as the support and development of young sporting talent.
Lecheva spoke to BTA just over a year before the start of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Here are the highlights of the interview:
Q: You have been a minister for seven months now, what do you see as the biggest problems facing Bulgarian athletes and federations?
A: The biggest problems are related to the systematic underfunding of Bulgarian sport. At the very beginning of my term as caretaker minister, I pointed out that all Bulgarian ministers should insist on a bigger share of GDP to be allocated to sport. But this is not a job for a caretaker government, because it is a policy with a long horizon. I believe that we can put an equal sign between more money for sport and the health of the nation.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports already has a record budget (BGN 123 million) compared to previous years. However, the percentage of GDP that we allocate to this important activity is the lowest in the whole of Europe. And the big question is - do we want to have a healthy nation?
A poll was taken which confirmed the alarming data that 76% of Bulgarians are not physically active. At the same time, almost unanimously (88%) of our compatriots share the opinion that it is important to exercise.
The data showed that Bulgarian people have in their mind an idea of the benefits of sport.
The survey also showed that a very large percentage of people (83%) said that the state should invest more, and nearly three quarters of all our compatriots thought that physical activity should be a priority for the state.
This suggests that we have a strong national consensus on the issue. I cannot even think of another area of our lives where there is such a consensus. It is therefore necessary to make a long-term policy in this direction. And although I am a caretaker minister, with a mandate of a few months, I want to take some important steps in that direction.
Sport is impossible without sports infrastructure. And that is why in the coming months the work of the Ministry will be concentrated on this task.
Q: The Ministry is mapping the sports facilities in Bulgaria. Tell us about it.
A: We are currently collecting information from all Bulgarian districts on sports facilities that are state and municipally owned. These will be integrated into a map that will show in an accessible way where and what there is in Bulgaria - sports complexes, stadiums, halls, courts, swimming pools, tracks, fields and everything that constitutes a sports facility. What is their condition, when they were built, when they were renovated. Only in this way can the right decisions be made about where and what investments are needed.
Our district coordinators are also already actively involved, carrying out spot checks.
The platform, which will show Bulgaria's sports infrastructure in one place, is important both for people and for the administration. Because when we do not have this complete picture of the sports facilities in the country, we cannot decide, as politicians, taking into account the public interest, what sports infrastructure is needed. In which district or city a swimming pool or gym needs to be built, or there are existing facilities that can be renovated under any of the programmes. Do we even need to do this, considering the local demographics?
Working piecemeal without an overall vision makes us a country where there are many sports facilities that people do not know about, municipalities do not care about, and the result is that there is nowhere to do sports.
Q: We are just over a year away from the start of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. How is the preparation of the elite athletes going?
A: My door at the ministry is constantly open to all federations. At the end of last year, we made a very important reform related to the funding of coaches. The national coaches are secured by the ministry so that they can work normally, have a horizon for development. It is important to stop the drain of coaching staff abroad, a process that has been going on for 30 years.
The federations have accepted the changes well. They are also signing their contracts for 2023. We resolve all controversial issues by consensus.
What I found over the summer in the ministry was an extremely difficult environment to work in and conflicts between the Ministry leadership and almost all sport federations. Suspicions, tensions, accusations ...
The sport federations are our partners. They do sport in Bulgaria, so it is necessary to work with them with due respect.
As far as the preparations for Paris 2024 are concerned, the only concern at the moment comes from the weightlifting federation, where the disputes do not stop.
We must respect the law and be guided only by it. However, it is important that we protect the interests of the athletes first and foremost, that they have equal training conditions with their competitors. The Ministry will do what it can to secure a smooth training process for Bulgarian weightlifters.
Q: The Ministry established a joint venture with CSKA for the Bulgarian Army Stadium. What comes next?
A: In mid-February, Bulgarska Armia Sportni Imoti was established, in which the CSKA Football Club and the State, through its company Serdika Sportni Imoti, hold equal shares. Serdika Sportni imoti has a 50% stake (BGN 28 498 000) of all shares in the capital of the new company. As a first and necessary step for the in-kind contribution by CSKA, BGN 7,124,500 was transferred to the accounts of the joint company. This is 25% of the funds to be contributed by the club. By the end of March, the conceptual project should be approved.
Q: When do you expect to have clarity on the construction of the new CSKA stadium and how will CSKA guarantee to the State that it will provide the funding for the construction of the facility?
A: The documents for the joint company spell out clear deadlines for everything and if they are not met, the company can be dissolved. I hope it will not come to that because all fans of this club want a new stadium. Everything has been going according to plan so far.