The main inspiration behind the Gazprom Neft Cup — chairman of the Tournament Organising Committee and member of the Gazprom Neft Management Board, Alexander Dybal — gives his view on Europe’s largest ice-hockey tournament for children.
— Is the Tournament ready for completely new challenges as the number of teams increases from 16 to 24?
— The expansion has been an obvious step ever since the Gazprom Neft Cup became the official children’s tournament of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL): we want every KHL club that has its own school to compete in our Tournament, and there are a lot more than 24 clubs with schools. We hope that in the future the number of teams playing in the Gazprom Neft Cup will be the same as the number of clubs in the League.
— What challenges does the expansion pose for the Tournament organisers?
— Our Tournament was the first and most ambitious sports project in the “Gazprom for Children” programme. The main challenge is that the Cup will be held simultaneously in two countries for the first time in its eight-year history! In cities that are more than 3000 kilometres apart! And we have to make sure that the standard of organisation, the opening ceremonies, the quality of refereeing, the TV coverage and broadcasting are equally good in both places.
— Where will the teams play?
— Owing to support for the Tournament from the President of Belarus, the Minsk City Executive Committee has given us the excellent Chizhovka-Arena. This is an absolutely new complex, built specially for the 2014 Ice Hockey World Cup. In Omsk, as in previous years, matches will be held at the Avangard Ice Hockey Centre and at one of the best KHL venues — the Omsk Arena. The Super Final on April 25, where the winners of West and East Groups will play for the trophy, will be at the Omsk Arena as well.
— There will be 24 children’s teams from several countries at this year’s Tournament. Who are the ones to watch?
— Naturally, the strongest contenders will be from cities that have the best sports schools. Those are Omsk, Chelyabinsk, Magnitogorsk, Kazan, Ufa, Yaroslavl, CSKA (Moscow)... They are the clubs that duelled for the trophy in the last
— Is it true that such great scale of the Tournament has become possible because the Gazprom Neft Cup has official status as the KHL Kids Hockey tournament?
— The official status as KHL Kids Tournament defines our format. The KHL is the best hockey league in Europe and the Gazprom Neft Cup is the best children’s ice-hockey tournament on the continent. A lot of teams want to take part, and I am telling the truth when I say that they are not just KHL teams. But the format we can offer today as the official KHL tournament is a children’s competition for teams in the League, plus two Siberian clubs that are Tournament co-founders and have played in the Cup since the very beginning.
— What else can the fans look forward to?
— We always put on impressive multimedia shows for the opening and closing ceremonies. At least as good as the shows before top KHL club matches — maybe better. This year we’ll have four such events — two in each of the cities. Our Belarusian partners will offer a terrific entertainment programme for all the teams in Minsk. And every club that has won the Gazprom Neft Cup since it was given status as an official KHL tournament will be specially awarded a copy of the trophy to keep for good. Remember, too, that our trophy was made by the same craftsmen who made the Gagarin Cup. We will be holding two seminars for children’s coaches: one in Minsk with Boris Mikhailov and the other in Omsk with Vladimir Yurzinov. For the final match in Omsk we are going to try and break our own record from last year and draw over 8000 spectators.
— This sounds like an event on a “grown-up” scale. Don’t you think the young athletes might be overawed and frightened? After all, they are only 10 years old...
— Coaches call our tournament the unofficial Russian Open championship for children under 11 years. The scope and standard of the Tournament aren’t mean to frighten but to inspire — to open new horizons and give positive emotions. We have talked to the lads who took part in the first few Tournaments (some of them are already playing in Russian national youth teams!), and they remember the Gazprom Neft Cup as a highest point of their hockey childhood.
— Is it right that the number of Tournament partners is growing as fast as the number of participants?
— We have a list of partners that could be the envy of any adult tournament. The equipment sponsor for many years has been Reebok, and we work with SOGAZ Group for insurance. Our information partners are the television channels Sport, Russia-24, NTV Plus and KHL-TV, as well as Sport-Express newspaper and the internet portal championat.com. One new partner this year is Yamal Airlines, which will lay on a plane to carry the winning team in West Group from Minsk to Omsk and from Omsk back to their hometown. The city administrations in Minsk and Omsk are also doing everything they can to help. By working together we should be able make the Gazprom Neft Cup as good as ever, and this time in two places at once — Omsk in Russia and Minsk in Belarus.