The St Petersburg University sports season 2019/20 has concluded. Mikhail Konjaria is Head of the sports sector at the St Petersburg University Sports department. He talked about the best University teams, the debut of the University mascot, and sporting activities during the pandemic.


The University sports season proved to be full of outstanding performances, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Which of the University teams have achieved the best results in this season?

Indeed, we can be rightly proud of our athletes. Especially, I would like to mention the University rowing team, who achieved really good results. In summer 2019, the team took part in the World University Regatta in Xi'an (China). Among the participants of the regatta were representatives of 20 famous worldwide universities. The St Petersburg University rowing team outrowed their competitors from Yale University, Harvard University, the University of Oxford, and the University of Zurich.

In autumn 2019, the team did well at the University of Otago 150th Celebration International Rowing regatta in Dunedin (New Zealand). The St Petersburg University team came third in the 2,000 m Race. On the way back home from New Zealand, the team accepted an invitation to participate in training races at the University of Sydney and went to Australia.

The oarsmen also proved themselves in winter: the team won bronze in the winter stage of the Student Rowing League (SRL) among 47 Russian universities. Besides the very strong men’s team, the women’s rowing team, which was formed at the beginning of the season, is starting to gain momentum. A very welcome event for the University rowers was the opening of the University rowing facilities. Now there is a place where they can come not only to practise, but also to study, to hold the team meetings, and to relax.

The athletes were diligently practising for the summer stage of the SGL, and the first race was to have taken place in April. Due to the current situation all summer races were postponed to autumn; the athletes, however, did not stop practising.

At what other sports did the University teams excel?

The St Petersburg University men’s basketball team did work hard. In autumn, they won silver in a tournament with Latvian universities, which was held in Riga. Also, our athletes for the first time participated in international competitions of the European Youth Basketball League.

The university rugby team has also risen to a new level. The student athletes tried their hands at the prestigious international tournament – Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens 2019, which was held in Dubai (UAE). Denis Semikov, a bachelor’s student in Personnel Management and a member of the Russian national rugby team, distinguished himself in the tournament. Last year, he was named the University’s ‘Athlete of the year.’ He was chosen by open voting held in the ‘VKontakte’ group of the St Petersburg University Sports department.

I cannot but emphasise that this season we scored really well at the international level. The St Petersburg University sports teams are getting recognition in Europe and in the world. We are happy that we also contribute to the steadily growing popularity of St Petersburg University. Every year it is becoming more and more popular internationally, not only as a world-class centre of research and education, but also for its support and promotion of sports.

At the end of 2019, the emblem and the mascot of the St Petersburg University sports teams were presented. How was the mascot received by the fans?

Indeed, the Champions Ball saw the presentation of the model of the common emblem for all student sports teams of St Petersburg University with the motto ‘We are all in the same boat’. The University teams’ emblem is in terracotta and grey as the official University colours.

The mascot was also presented at the Champions Ball. It is a funny looking owl, whom the athletes named Boris, wearing a sports uniform and a square academic hat. He has already won the hearts of the University students. Boris made his debut at the ‘St Petersburg University Entrant’s Day’ held on 1 February 2020. Since then he has been regularly attending not only the University sports events, but also other festivities and special occasions.

The spread of COVID-19 has negatively affected the staging of sporting events. How do the members of the St Petersburg University teams practise in isolation? Are there competitions held over video conference with no live audience?

Due to the pandemic, the spring-summer sports season was interrupted. Basketball, volleyball and football bodies postponed matches for an unknown period. Some, however, hadn’t even started the season before the coronavirus interrupted then. Thus, rugby players, swimmers, climbers and rowers have not had any competitions this year. Nonetheless, the athletes have no time to be idle and bored. No sooner had the lockdown been announced, than the St Petersburg University Sports Department developed a plan to ensure remote coaching of the University sports teams. This plan was immediately put into action: training session programmes and educational materials are prepared and sent to the athletes, who, in turn, report on their training progress. Even under these conditions, the slogan of the University sports teams ‘We are all in the same boat’ appears to work well: everyone is working in a coordinated and coherent fashion.

I must say that competitions held remotely in April and May became an interesting experience. A total of 111 people participated in the competitions, including University entrants, graduates and staff. One of the four competitions was dedicated to the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Participants needed to perform a set of military all-around exercises: push-ups and sit-ups.

The winners, finalists and nominees will receive their well-deserved awards in September, at the opening of the University sports season. All sporting events that were cancelled due to the pandemic are to be held in the autumn. We believe that by this time all the restrictions will have been lifted – students are really looking forward to this.