Emin Garibov talked to VTBRussia about his transition from an elite gymnast to the manager of the national team and head of marketing for the Russian Artistic Gymnastics Federation.
Q: Do you like what you’re doing now?
A: Yes! We’ve already had several successful projects, so that’s why I think it’s going to be even more interesting in the future!
Q: When did you realize that you’d have to say goodbye to gymnastics?
A: In fact, I was preparing for the Rio Olympics until the very last moment. I even managed to win a World Cup title on bars not long before the team selection. But then I came to the Russian Cup… and failed there. The coaches drew a totally logical conclusion that I wasn’t ready. And I understood this very well, too. But I didn’t want to give up on my goal until the last moment. Especially, since I realized that after Rio I wouldn’t have any further prospects in my athletic career, for sure: there were very strong young gymnasts, I’d have to work even harder and my health did not fully allow it.
Q: How hard was it for you to give up on your dream?
A: The level of the routines that I was doing before Rio was, generally, competitive. Everything depended on me. I didn’t reach my goal and the dream, naturally, evaporated. I had to draw my conclusions.
Q: Would an Olympic medalist status provide more opportunities for you in your future life?
A: Yes, I think if I had a status of an Olympic medalist or champion, it could’ve been that I’d be doing something else now. Because people with such status get different ambitions.
Q: Ambitions or offers?
A: Both, I think. But when you’re a decorated athlete, you first want to fulfill your personal potential and not to work for others.
Q: Was it really hard for you to work on promoting your national team colleagues and not yourself?
A: No, absolutely not. This was my choice. It wouldn’t make sense to work on promoting myself because I was lacking the titles that other athletes have. And it was always sad to me that our athletes, even Aliya Mustafina, don’t get as many offers as they’d like. And less decorated athletes also deserve more recognition. That’s basically, the essence of my task – to create interest in their personalities.
Q: When Aliya Mustafina put this line on her Instagram profile: “Contact Emin Garibov with any questions”, what did it mean for you?
A: I felt like it was a very trusting step on the part of Aliya.I really appreciate that she agreed to work with me as her manager.
Q: Did you offer it to her?
A: We had a talk. We looked at other sports where successful athletes have people who deal with their promotion. It’s normal. I was pleased that she entrusted this role to me.
Q: But you, in fact, were always one of the main speakers of the national team, you were always well-spoken, giving good explanations. Was it hard for you to change the status and go behind the scenes?
A: No, there was no internal clash, I never lived in the past, I always live in the present and look only into the future. I didn’t stop being a good speaker, it’s just that now I do it not publicly but in some business communications instead.
Q: What’s your current area of responsibility?
A: Very extensive, as the department of sports marketing in our federation is quite young.
Q: How many people are there?
A: Currently, just two. We also outsource some tasks to independent contractors.
Q: Is the second person also a former gymnast?
A: Yes, but he retired early and got a good education in international diplomacy.
Q: Why didn’t you look for a professional marketing specialist?
A: Gymnastics is not a very simple sport. You have to understand it and not every person who does marketing can integrate their competence into our sport. When I selected a candidate to be my assistant, I realized that in this case, it’s easier to learn marketing instead of teaching a marketing specialist about gymnastics.
Q: Did you study marketing somewhere?
A: First of all, I started learning all this stuff on my own. I was buried under books. I looked for everything on the topic of sports marketing. There are fairly general books, but there are some with good examples. Especially, since the Internet is now filled with information – you can get a lot of good stuff from there. In addition, there’s communication with the colleagues in the new field, participation in the conferences – all that gives its advantages.
Q: How easy was it for you to master the new field?
A: I can’t say it was easy. But it’s interesting for me. That’s why I keep growing.
Q: What goals do you set for yourself?
A: It’s not a secret that athletes who retire for various reasons get “lost” in life after that. There are many examples like that – I don’t even need to list them. My goal is to make sure that the athletes will be ready to retire and had a certain number of tools, including the marketing tools, for further development. That’s one of the goals. The rest – as our department is marketing – have to do with looking for partners, sponsors. The global goal is artistic gymnastics and it’s promotion as a sport.
Q: To what extent businesses are interested in artistic gymnastics and specific gymnasts?
A: They’re somewhat interested because through a successful athlete a brand can reveal its new goals, to fulfill certain needs of the brand, show itself from a new side, demonstrate new positioning.
Q: At the end, you watched Rio Olympics from the stands. But at the same time, you commentated it for Match TV. How did this cooperation begin?
A: After the Russian Cup, when it became clear that I won’t make the team, the [Russian] Artistic Gymnastics Federation made me a gift – sent me to Rio as a tourist. Only after that our head coach, Valentina Rodionenko called me and offered to commentate the competition. It would be foolish to refuse such an opportunity. To commentate the Olympics on a national TV channel – after my global defeat that was probably a very good offer, even a gift. At first, there was confusion. I didn’t know what to expect. Before that, I only commentated once – during the 2015 Universiade.
Q: Did the confusion go away quickly?
A: In fact, there were just really wild emotions, despite the fact that the situation in Rio with the organization of our commentating process ended up quite interesting. I met my co-commentator, Pasha Zanozin literally 15 minutes before the broadcast start. We didn’t know each other at all before that. I also didn’t have an accreditation, only the tickets. As a result, for three days we were running from all the security in order to just get to our commentating positions. We were bothered even while on air. It was, of course, very extreme. Only on the fourth day, I got the accreditation and the opportunity to walk around in peace. But, despite all these difficulties, it was a unique feeling – when you’re able to express all the emotions in the microphone.
Q: What did you feel when the guys won the team silver?
A: I was preparing for the air on Match TV in the local studio and was watching the competition on TV. Of course, I was excited, I can’t describe it in any other way! The guys who you competed with, who you went to this goal with, finally achieved it!
Q: But without you…
A: With you, without you – it doesn’t matter. You still feel happy for them, we’re one team.
Q: And there was no “But I could be there” thought?
A: Yes, I could, but trips to the Olympics don’t happen at the click of a finger. You have to prepare for the competition for years. I understood perfectly that if I won’t get into the optimal shape. There’s no sense to go and act as an extra. It’s better to give this place to someone who can really help [the team].
Q: What would you like to do in life? The national team manager is not the full extent of your dreams, right?
A: I think everything will depend on how things will go in what I’m doing now. At the moment, I was to fulfill myself in the role I’m playing. I’m interested in relationships between people, in the business sphere in which we could integrate. In addition, when you see the result when an athlete grows as a person together with you, it’s very nice.
Q: What do you mean?
A: The fact that with your work you are changing the athlete’s image somehow. You teach him the basics of communicating with the media, to speak well, to present themselves in the right way.
Q: The majority of the athletes aren’t known for their rich, educated speech. You always stood out in that regard. Due to what? Did you read a lot?
A: Strangely enough, no. Everyone says that you have to read books in order to develop your vocabulary – and that’s right. But I never liked to read, fiction has always been especially hard for me. I guess I didn’t see much sense in reading the book when it was possible, for example, to see the movie based on it. In that regard, it was a big achievement of my parents who at the time forced me to study, not to miss school, do my homework. In general, they raised me as good parents should.
Q: And now you, judging by the goals you mentioned, perform the same role while working with Russian gymnasts?
A: It’s too late to force them to go to school…
Q: Well, there’s Elena Eremina, for example. She still didn’t finish the senior year of high school.
A: By the way, I want to mention the younger generation, I like them very much – they’re responsible, despite their young age they perfectly understand what publicity is, how they should behave, how they should talk. I think that in the future they will be interesting for many people.
Q: And what’s your job as Aliya Mustafina’s manager?
A: At this stage, it’s mostly PR – we look for partners, for advertisers. Although in this regard, it became very hard to combine everything. Aliya decided to come back, she spends a lot of time at the training camp, in addition to giving birth to her daughter. But the work is moving forward slowly, we just need to be patient and squeeze the maximum out of the offers that we’re getting.
Q: Do you also work with Aliya on her speech, on how to present yourself while talking to journalists?
A: Of course. I can’t say that I’m literally sitting and teaching her something, it’s about a simple conversation. And I talk not only to Aliya. I try to let everyone know that your further career depends on how you will talk in public, what interviews you will give. The more interestingly you’ll look, the more interestingly you’ll talk, the more often you’ll be asked for interviews, the more often you’ll appear in the media. And this means that your citation index will be higher.
Q: What do you mean by “talking interestingly”?
A: First of all, the speech must be literate, you need to formulate your thoughts correctly. You need to be pleasant to talk to – in life as well, not just during interviews.
Q: But when the Russian national team manager is sitting beside you and controlling every athlete’s word, will it be possible to relax and be just a pleasant person to talk to, especially if you don’t have much experience?
A: I think so. After all, the athletes know me. This is a normal situation. We do our job so that it looks like it’s high quality.
Q: Would potentially like to become the Sports Minister?
A: At the moment I think it’s a very difficult task. Clearly, there are tons of problems and to build such a work system, such a team that is needed will be very difficult.
Q: And what about becoming the President of the Russian Artistic Gymnastics Federation?
A: I don’t know, frankly – I’m in doubts. I don’t go that far – I live step by step.
Photo: Mikhail Bormin, KazanFirst
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