A Mere Bone of Contention Between Two Political Forces

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

21:44, December 26, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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.