Vladimir Putin signing a guestbook in the university building's lobby© RIA Novosti. Mikhail Klimentyev
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SOCHI, September 16 (R-Sport) – Russia's new Olympic University in the Winter Games host city of Sochi will provide "colossal" expertise to world sport, Russian President Vladimir Putin said after the institution opened on Monday.
The $500 million Russian International Olympic University in the southern city aims to help ex-athletes become sports administrators and was part of Russia's bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Its academic year began earlier in the day with a concert featuring music and dance from around the world.
"This will become the main center for training in sports management," Putin said, "a place for a unique educational program that will provide colossal experience to the global Olympic family."
He added: "Russia has big and serious plans in the area of sports and fitness and it is one of the priorities of our social policy. ... Here we see excellent opportunities to bring to people the values of a healthy lifestyle, the values of sport, activity and fitness, especially for youth, to show a correct and positive orientation for life."
Putin spoke in front of an audience including Sochi 2014 chief organizer Dmitry Chernyshenko and Jean-Claude Killy, head of the International Olympic Committee's coordination commission for Sochi. Before being whisked away in his motorcade, Putin stopped to sign a guestbook in the university building's lobby.
The university offers $15,000-a-year courses to qualify as a Master of Sports Administration (MSA), with diplomas awarded jointly with Britain's Coventry University. There will be guest professors from universities worldwide and lectures from sports celebrities like pole vault world record holder and IOC member Sergei Bubka.
Rector Lev Belousov has lofty ambitions, comparing the new institution to Harvard and Chicago universities.
"We had a very tough task. We wanted to go straight into the leading positions," he said. "It doesn't mean immediately becoming Harvard, but we have every chance to become like Harvard."
The institution was built by Interros, a private investment company chaired by Russian metals tycoon Vladimir Potanin, which is also providing scholarships for individual students. Interros also built other Olympic facilities including the Rosa Khutor ski resort that will be used for competition next February.
The campus opened with a show of modern dance, patriotic pop music and Cuban dance anthems in its courtyard despite pouring rain, before its flag was raised alongside those of Russia and the Sochi Olympics. The new campus building ranks among the highest in the city, but is still unfinished in places.
Some of the first intake of 27 students were also introduced, including ex-athletes and staff of national Olympic committees.
The university has students from 14 countries, announcers at the ceremony said, including Rwanda, South Korea and Brazil.
The Olympics will be held from February 7 to 23.
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