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Olympic Chief Zhukov Vows New Era (and Chess)

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov attending a meeting of the Russian Olympic Committee that elected him president Thursday. He promised a new era of sports and said chess should be an Olympic event. Igor Tabakov

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov promised a new era of sports for Russia as he was elected president of the Russian Olympic Committee and said he would lobby to make chess an Olympic event.

Zhukov was the sole candidate for the post Thursday as about 200 sports officials convened to replace Leonid Tyagachyov, who quit after Russia suffered its worst-ever Winter Olympics, in Vancouver in February.

Even before the vote took place, committee representatives passed around booklets outlining plans for the years 2010 to 2014, with a foreword by Zhukov, pictures of him playing chess and football and a biography. Only five of the 209 delegates opposed Zhukov's candidacy in the secret ballot.

The two main goals for the Russian Olympic Committee are to develop sports in Russia and to win the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in 2014, Zhukov said.

He said his senior government post would help increase Russia's clout on the international level and expand its lobbying powers to include sports that are "advantageous for Russia," such as chess.

“Regrettably, the International Olympic Committee doesn’t want to add that sport to the Olympic program, but we will insist on that,” he said.

Zhukov is an avid chess player and served as the president of the Russian Chess Federation for five years.

He also promised wide-ranging support for athletes, including a new medical center, post-performance career training, health insurance and programs that will help athletes train and win without using illegal drugs.

"We need to stamp out the psychology that one cannot win without doping," Zhukov said.

Reaching these goals will "require financial resources and effective management," he said.

While he declined to specify the amount of funding that would be needed, he said the Olympic Committee would not be getting money from the federal government. The main sources of income will be the Sochi Olympic Committee's marketing budget, an Olympic lottery and the Russian Olympic Committee's own marketing programs, which currently don't exist, he said.

To rally support and form a multimillion-member fan base, the committee must also look into social networking sites, he said.

Sports delegates also passed changes to the charter of the Olympic Committee, creating two new positions. Ousted president Tyagachyov was swiftly elected to the new position of honorary president. The other new position is of managing director, who will take on most day-to-day duties of running the committee. Tatarstan's top sports official, Marat Bariyev, was appointed to the post on Zhukov's recommendation.

Calls to reform the committee's structure and change its president resounded after Russia collected just three gold medals in Vancouver. Tyagachyov, who served as president for nine years, resigned in March after facing withering criticism from President Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev stressed the high stakes of Zhukov's new job during a meeting late Thursday. "Practically everything will depend on your position," he said. "Work begun after the pitiful Vancouver results must be completed."

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