Post-Olympic host in need of workout

Will the Olympic Games make Russians start exercising?

Only two of ten Russians in the Barents Region say they do regular physical exercise. Will the Olympic Games in Sochi help the Russians get better shaped?


“This is the new face of Russia”, Dmitry Chernyshenko, the president of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, underlined in his speech at Sunday’s grand Olympic closing ceremony. Russian athletes were the fittest of all, and the country became the most-winning nation with a total of 13 gold medals.

For a record-beating sum of more than €37 billion, Russia successfully organized the 22nd Olympic Winter Games.

But will the Olympics have an effect on the average Russians’ engagement in sports and physical exercise?

Figures assembled by BarentsObserver show that the Russians are far less physically active than their neighbors in the west. In the Russian part of the Barents Region, an average of 18 percent of the population say they do physical exercising “on a regular basis”. The situation is the worst in Murmansk Oblast were only 12 percent of the population in 2012 reported that they do physical exercising. The Komi Republic is the best of the five Russian federal subjects. There, 24,4 percent of the population are physically active, data assembled from the Russian State Statistical Service show.

Meanwhile, the situation in the neighboring Nordic countries appears quite a different. Figures assembled from the statistical offices in Norway, Finland and Sweden indicate that the populations in the Nordic part of the Barents Region are several times more active than in Russia. In northern Norway, as many as 81 percent in 2013 said they did physical exercising “at least once a week”. In northern Finland, 71 percent in 2012 said they did exercising at least “2-3 times per week”, and in northern Sweden the number of people regularly engaging in “outdoor activities and exercising” the same year amounted to 65 percent of the population.

Despite the differences, some of which might be assigned to different statistical approaches, all parts of the Barents region still experience a significant increase in the level of physical activity. In the Russian part, the number of physically active in the period 2007-2012 increased with five percent, in Norway with ten percent, in Finland with two percent and Sweden with almost six percent. 

On the Russian side, both federal and regional authorities now have ambitious plans on how to get people in shape. According to the federal State Programme on the Development of Physical Activity and Sports, a document adopted in March 2013, the number of physically active Russians is to increase from 20,6 percent (2011) to 40 percent in year 2020. At the same time, the population is to be provided with a 50 percent increase in sports infrastructure objects by 2018. In addition, the number of people with physical disabilities engaged in sports is to increase from three percent to 20 percent in 2020 and students are in the same period to almost double the level of physical activity from 43 percent to 80 percent.

According to Minister Mikhail Abyzov, the new federal programme will have a 1,7 trillion rubles financial frame in the period until year 2020, a government press release reads.

Also in Murmansk, the region with the lowest level of physical activity in the whole Barents Region, regional authorities appear to be taking measures. According to a 2013 report from the regional Sports Committee, several new sports complexes are under construction and the number of people active in sports is due to increase over the next years. In 2007, only 10,8 percent of the regional population engaged in sports. In 2012, that figure had increased to 12 percent.