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Sports Academy supporters protest university merger

By Shorena Labadze
Thursday, April 17
Students and instructors from the former Sports Academy rallied in front of the state chancellery yesterday to demand the government return the academy’s facilities and independent status.

Demonstrators then moved on to the offices of local anti-government television broadcaster Kavkasia to request airtime, which station director Nino Jangirashvili said would be given.

The athletes have protested off and on since the Sports Academy was folded into Ilia Chavchavadze State University last summer as part of an “optimization” drive. Education officials said in July 2007 that there was no need for the Sports Academy to be housed in its own building, which went onto the privatization block.

The government hailed the merger as elevating athletics to university status, but academy officials decried the loss of 70 years of independence.

Students and faculty rebelled, demonstrating and accusing the government of opposing Georgian sports.

“Our staff wants…an independent academy. We have our own traditions and history,” said Jemal Gugushvili, the academy rector, last summer.

“If our officials want to gain popularity throughout the world, this is done firstly through sports. This decision is a betrayal of the Georgian nation,” said well-known Georgian athlete and envoy to UNESCO Jumber Lejava at the time.

The rector of Ilia Chavchavadze State University, Gigi Tevzadze, promised not to fire any staff and to give it independence in setting its curriculum.

The Sports Academy, which gained independence from Tbilisi State University in 1938, produced 19 Olympic champions and over 200 top world competitors—but top athletes no longer represent the academy. Athletes are instead enrolled at the state university.

Academy supporters have sent petitions to Georgian Olympic champions and all levels of government, without success.