Russia could give up W Cup ski races amid doping scandal
Russia is prepared to give up hosting rights for some World Cup cross-country skiing races to help the country’s image amid a doping scandal. Elena Valbe, the president of the Russian cross-country skiing federation, said she would “absolutely” allow the March 16-19 final round of the World Cup in Tyumen to be moved outside the country if it would generate goodwill to let Russia compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“My deep conviction is that now we need to think about our team going to the Olympics Games,” Valbe told state news agency R-Sport on Thursday. “A World Cup stage is a second-level issue.”
Russia is again under pressure after a report last week by World AntiDoping Agency investigator Richard McLaren detailed a vast, state-sponsored doping cover-up involving 12 medalists from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
On Tuesday, the 2017 world bobsled and skeleton championships were moved from Russia after several of the top sliders said they would not compete in the country because of doping concerns, something Valbe argued had set a precedent for more events being transferred or canceled.
“If one federation is doing something, there’s probably a joint agreement, or at least they’ve consulted among themselves,” she said.
In July, the International Olympic Committee encouraged winter sports federations not to schedule competitions in Russia because of doping concerns, though the call prompted little response at the time.
On Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that an “atmosphere” of suspicion around Russia was not enough to move events like the bobsled world championships. “The anti-doping campaign has turned into an anti-Russian campaign,” Medvedev said. “What’s atmosphere got to do with it if there’s a contract?”
Meanwhile, a new site - Germany and the US are potential hosts - will likely be announced in the coming days. The move by the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation comes less than a week after the latest scathing report from World AntiDoping Association investigator Richard McLaren showed the depth of doping and test-tampering by Russia during the 2012 and 2014 Olympic cycles. “That’s a monumental decision by the IBSF and the right move to protect clean athletes and to tell the world that state-sponsored doping is unacceptable,” US women’s bobsled pilot Elana Meyers Taylor said. “I am ecstatic about the decision.”
Worlds were scheduled to happen over the last two weeks of February in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, on the track used for the 2014 Sochi Games.
The office of Russian President Vladimir Putin said the move was based on unfounded statements, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling it a “politicized decision.” But the Russian bobsled federation said it accepted the move in the spirit of cooperation, and asked for understanding from other sliding teams.
“There are no good decisions in these circumstances and our colleagues have had to choose the lesser evil,” the Russian federation said. “We understand that in a situation of mutual distrust, which is not of our creation, it is still possible to host a competition but it’s not possible to host a festival, and the world championship should really be a festival which people look forward to with pleasure.”
The IBSF worded its decision very cautiously, not implicating the Russian Bobsled Federation in any way. Instead, the international federation said moving worlds was the only way “to allow athletes and coaches from all nations to participate in a competition that focuses on sport rather than accusations and discussions - whether justified or not.” Some of the world’s best sliders - including reigning Olympic medalists Steven Holcomb, Matt Antoine and Meyers Taylor of the U.S., Martins Dukurs of Latvia and Lizzy Yarnold of Britain - urged the IBSF for weeks to take the action. Latvia’s national skeleton team said Sunday that it would boycott if worlds were held in Russia, and Austria and South Korea were also considering such a move. — AP