MOSCOW, May 19 (R-Sport) – Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has hailed the arrival of the first all-athlete military units since Soviet times.
Thirty-six athletes who could represent Russia at the Sochi Olympics took their military oath Sunday at Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Moscow.
“Sports units are the right decision from the point of view of the economy and the strategy for the development of sport and the state,” said Mutko.
“The state is investing huge resources in every young athlete, and any distraction from active service can have a significant effect on sporting results,” he added.
The sports units are a signature component of President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing commitment to burnish the country’s sporting reputation ahead of the Winter Games, and beyond.
In March, the Defense Ministry unveiled the first unit, with about 150 conscripted athletes set to serve in a division associated with CSK Samara, which also owns professional basketball and hockey teams.
More units are expected to form in the coming months with a total roster of 400 men between the conscription ages of 18 and 27.
The units are designed to allow draft-eligible athletes to continue their training while fulfilling mandatory military service. Coaches across the country are expected to submit the names of their most promising athletes to military enlistment offices.
The program hearkens back to the Soviet Union, when sporting units – populated with star athletes exempt from regular service – were common in the Soviet army.
Putin has said he hopes the program will serve as a pipeline to Russia’s Olympic teams. Meantime, conscripted athletes will represent the Central Military District and the Russian Army in national and international competitions.
The program may also help to address draft dodging: Roughly 245,000 men evaded conscription in 2012, according to Russian army officials.