The Russian International Olympic University (RIOU) today awarded its inaugural intake of students their Master of Sport Administration (MSA) qualifications after they all successfully completed the University's Olympic-focused 10-month programme of study.
The MSA course started on 16 September 2013, with 27 students hailing from 14 countries (Russia, Uganda, Armenia, Ukraine, India, Poland, USA, Germany, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Botswana and Korea). The majority of students – now graduates – are representatives of National Olympic Committees (10 of the 27 students came from NOCs) and sports industry employees. Among the student group were renowned Polish swimmer and Olympic champion Otylia Jędrzejczak; American ice hockey player and Olympic medalist Molly Engstrom; and Botswana sprinter Obakeng Ngwigwa.
Many of the students were well supported financially whilst they carried out their studies. The Vladimir Potanin Foundation provided 20 scholarships, while two students from Kazakhstan were supported by scholarships from the Bolashak Foundation, as well as grants from the Astana Presidential Professional Sports Club.
During the 10-month course the MSA students studied modules such as Economics of Sport and the Olympic Games; Governance, Politics and the Olympic Movement; Research Methods in Sport Management; Sport and the Olympic Games as a Business; and Sport Marketing and Communications. All classes were taught in English by leading Russian and international professors.
RIOU's MSA prioritises giving students practical experience and the inaugural intake were given the chance to immerse themselves in the operations behind the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi. With the IOC's approval, they received on-the-job training at Olympic venues, and held meetings with senior figures on the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, who shared their expertise with RIOU's students via workshops and impromptu discussions.
During the Paralympic Winter Games, RIOU's students took part in practice programmes organised in association with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Academy and the World Academy of Sport and were also involved in the Observer Programme and Games Experience Programme,focusing on different aspects of the organisation of the Paralympic Games. As part of a research project, the students carryied out a survey of athletes and press representatives to get their feedback on the staging of the Paralympic Games and its coverage in the media. In total, RIOU students collected over 200 questionnaires, which were then analysed by RIOU and sent to the IPC Academy.
RIOU MSA graduate from Russia, Ivan Belyaev, said: "I've learned a huge amount about the operations of the Olympic Movement and the Olympic Games in my time at RIOU. The practice programme during the Games absorbed all my focus and fascination and was an invaluable experience which a lot of my future competitors on the employment market simply don't have. My year in Sochi has been the best year of my life so far and I have made a lot of friends. There is a great inquisitive atmosphere at RIOU amongst the students and professors, and this comes from the University's cultural diversity. This will remain one of my lasting impressions of RIOU, as well as the Games of course."
Otylia Jędrzejczak also spoke very highly of the MSA programme: "I decided to come and study at RIOU because I have always wanted to stay in the sports industry after my career in swimming was over. The MSA course was the right choice for me as it gave me an opportunity to achieve my goals of advancing my personal knowledge of the sports industry and building up my sports management skill base. I felt myself improving in these areas every day; it was great to be developing at a fast enough speed to see your improvements."
At the final stage of the programme the students worked on individual research projects in various areas of sport management. The training culminated in the presentation of their research papers, which was the final requirement to gain a Master of Sport Administration qualification from RIOU. RIOU MSA graduate from Armenia, Anna Martirosyan, said: "I can't wait to use all the knowledge I have learnt here, in my own country. As my career progresses I would like to promote sport in Armenia and help our athletes reach new Olympic heights."
One of the most pleasing aspects of the graduation ceremony was the pledge by RIOU's MSA graduates to start a RIOU Alumni Club. Otylia Jędrzejczak added: "When our Alumni Club gets underway, it'll be easier to network and share information about professional opportunities in the sports industry. Making contacts with new people and learning about their ideas opens new avenues. I am sure that the wider your social network, the more chances you have of using your knowledge and skills to benefit your personal growth and help develop global sport. This final goal is of course why we decided to go into the sports industry in the first place."
Congratulating the graduates at a special ceremony, RIOU Rector Professor Lev Belousov said: "In September 2013 you came to Sochi to study at RIOU. And that was an important moment for us – one we had been preparing for, for a number of years. We built the campus, developed the MSA course, attracted the best lecturers and adjusted the University's operations to accommodate you all. We have had a successful start together by working very hard together throughout this year. I have no doubts that you will always remember the time you spent at RIOU because the ordinary routine of studies was enlivened by so many thrilling and colourful events – making friends with students from other countries and continents, meeting renowned professors and experts, famous politicians and sport leaders. And, most importantly, the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games! "The practice programmes at the Olympic venues gave you professional skills on a new level. The academic knowledge from the course and the invaluable practical experience have equipped you for a completely new chapter in your careers and lives. I would like to wish you good luck and every success on this new path!"
Professor Belousov also announced the establishment of the RIOU endowment fund and expressed his confidence that RIOU's graduates will make contributions to its development and keep supporting their alma mater.
RIOU will soon be closing its application process for the Russian language and English language versions of the Master of Sport Administration course for the 2014-15 academic year.