''A boycott – it’s strong. But sorry for the athletes''

The first reaction of sports community on the IOC's decision

''A boycott – it’s strong. But sorry for the athletes'' Photo: Aleksey Kudenko (sputnik)

It's all started with meldonium, and quite a long time ago. The sluggish reaction of the Russian functionaries to a brewing scandal has given enthusiasm for a sports attack on our country, and on 5 December we received the denouement which experts predicted a year and a half ago — the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has banned our team from participation in the Olympics 2018. After all, 'team of athletes from Russia' without the national anthem and the national flag — it's not the same. Realnoe Vremya sports edition presents the whole list of 'sanctions' of the world sport against Russian sport and gives the floor to the athletes and its experts.

What the IOC has conceived

What has the IOC decided? First of all, our athletes can compete at the Olympics only under the Olympic Flag, like it was in Russian history in 1992 in Albertville. The uniform of Russian athletes will have the strange inscription 'Olympic Athlete from Russia', and the Olympic Anthem will be played in any ceremony.

However, not every athlete will have the opportunity to take part in the Games on such conditions. Each candidate will have to obtain the approval of a specialist panel, headed by Valérie Fourneyron, to confirm Olympic qualification standards, to have a clean doping history, and to have undergone additional tests specified by the panel. It is separately emphasized that the final 'absolute' decision on admission of every athlete is taken by the IOC.

But it's only part of the story. The coaches and doctors, wards of whom violated anti-doping rules, will not be allowed to South Korea. Besides, the access to the Games for the representatives of the sports ministry of the Russian Federation will also be denied. Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Vitaly Mutko, who previously held the post of sports minister, has received a life ban to the Olympic movement, as well as his former deputy Yury Nagornykh. The president of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), Alexander Zhukov, has been suspended as an IOC member. Dmitry Chernyshenko, the head of the organizing committee Sochi 2014, will have to leave the Co-ordination Commission Beijing 2022. The IOC separately emphasizes its right to punish also 'other people involved in the system'.

The financial aspect of 'public flogging' has not been forgotten either: the Russian Olympic Committee will have to transfer $15 million to Independent Testing Authority — Russia must reimburse the costs of the investigations against itself, to 'strengthen global anti-doping system'.

''We do not have time neither to refute nor change the decision of IOC before the Olympics. Already two years ago it was clear that IOC was going to suspend Russia from the Games. Why no action was taken — that's unclear.'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

''It's too late''

Two-time Olympic medalist, member of the State Duma of Russia Irek Zinnurov commented on the situation specially for Realnoe Vremya.

''It is a humiliation of Russia. Everything was heading towards it, all actions of the IOC were aimed at this,'' our interlocutor said.

Should Russia boycott the Olympics?

I will tell as a former athlete. We train for the competition, our goal is to come and compete. And everyone has an understandable desire to complete under the flag of their country. To go to South Korea or not – it's down to politicians. Now I will tell as a State Duma Deputy: are we ready for complete isolation from the world sport? If we tell that an athlete is innocent and we have been unfairly disqualified, we must defend each athlete in court. We should have done this a few years ago, not today. It's already too late. We do not have time neither to refute nor change the decision of the IOC before the Olympics. Already two years ago it was clear that IOC was going to suspend Russia from the Games. Why no action was taken — that's unclear.

How responsible is Vitaly Mutko for all this?

I'd prefer not to answer to this question for publishing. I will only remind that China in its time also had an aggravation of the doping issue with the Americans. But the Chinese built a competent protection policy and they do participate in the Games despite doping problems that exist, I stress it, in absolutely all countries. They play by the IOC rules.

''Well, at least they do not bring in tanks''

The situation has divided the country, and not only sports fans, into two big camps. What is more, both of them have very respected athletes. The first group urge to boycott the Olympics, calling the IOC's decision a humiliation of Russia and the participation in the Olympics under a neutral flag absolutely unacceptable. One of the prominent representatives of this group is artistic gymnast, two-time Olympic champion Svetlana Khorkina.

''I was listening to the verdict of IOC and was shocked. Today the foundation of the entire international Olympic movement has cracked… How are we supposed to live then?'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

''Frankly speaking, I was hoping that Bach (Thomas Bach, IOC President – editor's note) will speak on behalf of those who have been in the shoes of athletes. I believed to the last that the decision would be correct and reasonable. But it has turned out differently,'' Sport-Express newspaper quotes the words of the gymnast.

What it feels like to participate in the Olympic Games without the national anthem and flag?

I think it is unacceptable. I was listening to the verdict of the IOC and was shocked. Today the foundation of the entire international Olympic movement has cracked… How are we supposed to live then? How is it possible to accept the ban on participation in the opening and closing of the Olympic Games?! Look what we have come to! Breaking the great power Russia?! No, it will not work out. This country, with the capital letter — Russia, we have the army, nuclear weapons and great people.

Alexey Spiridonov, ex-player of Russian team in volleyball, continued the army theme in conversation with the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya.

''I personally didn't participate in the Games, unfortunately. I was expelled from the national team at the last moment, I already told you (laughing). But in this situation, I would go to South Korea. Yes, it is humiliating to compete under a neutral flag, but what can we do. To compete in a regional championship or something?''

It's down to Vladimir Putin to decide, it will be how he will tell.

Could it be foreseen and prevented?

''If I knew the future, I would have bought dollars for 23 rubles and would have been a billionaire now. It is a political war. Western aggression has reached sport, and it is their most painful blow to Russia for now. Well, at least they do not bring in tanks. However, they have little chance in that. It's everything ok with guns in our country,'' Spiridonov said.

''The athletes are suffering: they prepare for the competition and become punching bags in political games. Maybe someone used doping, but it is wrong the whole team is punished.'' Photo: mdms.tatarstan.ru

''A boycott – it's strong, but…''

The other 'camp' is concerned about the interests of the athletes, who, in fact, live and work for the sake of participation in the Olympic Games, held every four years.

Ayrat Khamatov, the first world boxing champion from Tatarstan, the head of the Boxing Federation in Tatarstan, holds this opinion.

''I have a negative attitude to this whole situation. The athletes are suffering: they prepare for the competition and become punching bags in political games. Maybe someone used doping, but it is wrong to punish the whole team. Moreover, the problem of doping is not only in Russia, it exists in all countries.''

Should Russia boycott?

It is a more difficult question. But the athlete prepares for the Games during the whole Olympic cycle. We already competed under the Olympic flag in 1992. It was also not nice. A boycott is a powerful thing, but sorry for the athletes. By the way, I didn't participate in those games. That time, for political reasons, the team was 'evenly' gathered from Russians and representatives of other CIS countries. Although by the sport principle, I was supposed to go.

In your time, the doping topic was not as relevant?

I passed the doping test two times at the world championship. But I didn't even know what it was. I heard the lifters took something. But in boxing, I think, doping is useless.

Would you personally go to South Korea under a neutral flag?

When you defend the honour of the country, it is a big responsibility. But under the Olympic Flag – it's not the same. But anyway, for your country… This is a very delicate moment. It's need to be seriously considered. I can't answer this question right now.

Mutko is 99% to blame for the OIC's decision, Alexander Tikhonov believes. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

''Mutko is 99% to blame for the OIC's decision''

More 'heavier' figures spoke against a boycott. Especially harsh was four-time Olympic champion Alexander Tikhonov, who assailed with criticism of deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Vitaly Mutko.

''It was predictable. About 10 years ago I personally predicted in the building of the Olympic Committee, I said from the tribune, ''The day will come when we will get embarrassed for the entire country.'' The day has come. It all started with harmless meldonium, and I has warned. The IOC's decision is the blame of Mutko at 99 percent. It is his fault that Rodchenkov fled. We should go to the Olympics under a neutral flag. We need to prove to everyone that we are the best. The participation without the anthem and the flag is not a betrayal. We need to go and give a slap to everyone: the Americans, and the whole world. The whole world should know that Russia is not broken,'' Tikhonov said to Chempionat online publication.

By Artur Khalillulov