Rus­sia out­raged by Olympics ban over dop­ing

Move de­liv­ers body blow to na­tion that takes pride in its sport­ing prow­ess

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY AN­DREW ROTH an­drew.roth@wash­post.com

moscow — Prom­i­nent Rus­sians ex­pressed anger, de­spair and re­sent­ment on Wed­nes­day af­ter the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee de­cided to ban the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion from the 2018 Win­ter Olympics in South Korea.

The ban is a his­toric act of pun­ish­ment for wide­spread dop­ing among Rus­sian ath­letes that Olympic of­fi­cials say they be­lieve was sup­ported by the gov­ern­ment.

It de­liv­ered a body blow to a na­tion that prides it­self on its sport­ing prow­ess and was ec­static over its vic­tory in the 2014 Win­ter Olympics medal count. Just four years later, the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion’s count will be zero, and the coun­try is con­sid­er­ing a boy­cott.

Mikhail Gor­bachev, the for­mer Soviet leader who helped end the Cold War, called the IOC de­ci­sion “out­ra­geous.” The de­ci­sion bans Rus­sia’s flag and an­them but al­lows in­di­vid­ual ath­letes to com­pete un­der a spe­cial des­ig­na­tion, as Olympic Ath­lete from Rus­sia (OAR).

“It’s just bad, and that’s it,” Gor­bachev told the state sport news agency, R-Sport. “It’s sports, damn it.”

Rus­sian law­mak­ers, of­ten the van­guard of pub­lic out­rage, de­manded pun­ish­ments. Some turned on their own. One filed suit against for­mer min­is­ter of sport Vi­taly Mutko for “de­mean­ing the honor of the coun­try.” (Mutko was also slapped with a life­time Olympic ban on Tues­day.)

Sev­eral jour­nal­ists and com­men­ta­tors, no­tably far-right author Niko­lai Starikov, posted memes on so­cial me­dia show­ing Rus­sian sol­diers in un­marked uni­forms, writ­ing, “just as IOC asked for.” It was a nod to­ward the un­marked Rus­sian sol­diers who helped seize Crimea in 2014, as Rus­sia wrapped up its own Win­ter Olympic Games.

Rus­sia claims po­lit­i­cal griev­ances with the West, stretch­ing from Ukraine to Syria, and back to the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo. But sports, and the pol­i­tics sur­round­ing them, still have a spe­cial abil­ity to stir up emo­tions here, both in the Krem­lin and in homes across the coun­try.

When Rus­sian of­fi­cials bring up com­plaints about the West, they reg­u­larly list the mock­ing cov­er­age of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, with ar­ti­cles ex­pos­ing hastily con­structed bathrooms with two toi­lets, rather than ex­tolling the grandeur of a moun­tain ski town and sea­side sport­ing mecca built from scratch with a bud­get of $50 bil­lion.

For a time, it ap­peared that Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin would stake part of his legacy on great sport­ing events. He per­son­ally ad­dressed the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee in English in 2008 in Gu­atemala to se­cure Rus­sia’s bid for the Games to take place at the Black Sea re­sort town of Sochi. Last week at the Krem­lin, he opened the draw cer­e­mony for the 2018 World Cup, also set to be held in Rus­sia, and traded trilin­gual party ban­ter with FIFA Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino and soc­cer le­gend Diego Maradona.

Now, with Rus­sia on the verge of a ma­jor breach with the West over an al­leged state-spon­sored dop­ing pro­gram, the Krem­lin is tread­ing care­fully.

“Our main goal is to de­fend the in­ter­ests of our ath­letes, Rus­sian ath­letes,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s per­sonal spokesman, said. To­ward Wed­nes­day evening, he said the coun­try would not en­ter­tain a boy­cott against the Olympics for Rus­sian ath­letes who wanted to par­tic­i­pate in­de­pen­dently but said the find­ings against Rus­sia were po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

Just a few weeks ago, the honorary head of Rus­sia’s Olympic Com­mit­tee, Leonid Tya­gachev, said Grig­ory Rod­chenkov, the Rus­sian doc­tor and whistle­blower who ex­posed the dop­ing pro­gram, should be “shot like Stalin would have done.” Now, there are signs that of­fi­cials are be­com­ing more care­ful in their rhetoric.

“We can be in­dig­nant with the West as much as we want, and, might I add, justly,” wrote Kon­stantin Kosachev, a vo­cal mem­ber of Rus­sia’s up­per house of par­lia­ment, the Fed­er­a­tion Coun­cil. “But I am sure that our sports of­fi­cials should be held per­son­ally li­able for fail­ing to no­tice the begin­ning of this cam­paign and be­ing clearly un­able to deal with its fin­ish.”

The con­flict has po­lar­ized so­ci­ety, one sports edi­tor said.

“There is no one left in the mid­dle,” Dmitry Navosha, head of Sports.ru, a pop­u­lar Rus­sian sports web­site, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. Per­son­ally, he said, he be­lieves the gov­ern­ment could have taken mea­sures to avoid the full ban an­nounced Tues­day. But many oth­ers see a con­spir­acy against Rus­sia.

“I think that so­ci­ety is deeply po­lar­ized,” Navosha said. “Some peo­ple are go­ing to use the words they use on state tele­vi­sion; oth­ers are go­ing to ask se­ri­ous ques­tions of the gov­ern­ment about why this hap­pened.”

The whistle­blower should be “shot like Stalin would have done.” Leonid Tya­gachev, Olympic of­fi­cial

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