By Ruzanna StepanianIshkhan Zakarian, Armenia’s chief sports official, apologized on Tuesday to the public for the failure of the Armenian athletes to win medals at the Olympic Games in Athens, but again rejected calls for his resignation.
“I would like to appeal to our people and ask for their forgiveness for the fact that our team failed to bring them joy during the last Olympic Games,” he said of the country’s worst Olympic showing since independence.
But Zakarian, who heads the State Committee on Sports and the National Olympic Committee, added that he should not be blamed for the bitter fiasco because he did his best to help the 18 Armenian athletes prepare for the world’s most prestigious sporting competition.
Speaking to journalists last week, Zakarian’s deputy Mikael Ispirian and several national Olympic coaches complained about a lack of state funding to the athletes and sports in general. But Zakarian insisted that the Armenian government provided sufficient resources and adequate training facilities to expect stronger performance from them.
“I really don’t know what the reasons for our failure are. It’s something inexplicable,” he told his news conference since the Athens games.
Zakarian has been widely blamed by Armenian media and prominent politicians representing both the government and the opposition for the flop. Some newspapers have charged that he spends more time on rallying athletes behind the ruling regime than promoting sports. Even powerful Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian implicitly called for his ouster, saying that the authorities must draw “serious conclusions” after the Olympics.
But Zakarian made it clear that he has no intention to quit. “The job of an official holding this post is to deliver what the coaches need. I’m not going to lift a weight or wrestle in somebody’s place,” he said.
Zakarian has had, at least until now, a reputation of a figure close to President Robert Kocharian. His defiant stance is construed by local commentators as an indication of Kocharian’s continuing strong support for the controversial official.