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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sporting Russia Kicks Off at Luzhniki

Itar-TassFetisov addressing Sporting Russia's founding congress Friday at Luzhniki Stadium.
After weeks of hype over the launch of a Kremlin-backed sports organization, Sportivnaya Rossiya, or Sporting Russia, was officially created Friday.

Almost 300 delegates, including former Olympic champions, renowned coaches and sports officials from 63 Russian regions, met at a founding congress held on the field at Luzhniki Stadium and picked as their leader Vyacheslav Fetisov, the former star hockey player who was appointed head of the State Sports Committee in April.

"This is the beginning of a new era," Fetisov said. "Our main goal is to revive Russia's great sporting tradition, improve the health and life span of our people and restore patriotism among our young people through sports."

He said only 8 percent of Russians engage in sports.

Fetisov stressed that Sporting Russia has the backing of President Vladimir Putin and his administration and said he hoped for the financial support of major businesses.

Gazprom and Interros Group are among the founders of Sporting Russia.

A vote was taken in a show of hands on whether to ask Putin to be the organization's honorary chairman, and when no one put up a hand to oppose the idea, the announcer said: "We all love our president."

Fetisov was chosen as chairman of the organization's 31-member council. Other members include Russian Olympic Committee president Leonid Tyagachyov, Education Minister Vladimir Filippov, Federation Council member Ivan Starikov, figure skater Irina Rodnina and officials from Gazprom and Norilsk Nickel, Kommersant reported Saturday.

Fetisov rejected the presumption that he and Sporting Russia had political ambitions.

"We're not thinking about a political party in any way," Fetisov said. "All we're trying to do is to revive the sports movement in Russia."

He did not elaborate on the first steps Sporting Russia will take after it is officially registered.