Thursday 22 March 2018

Angry Putin turns his fire on Coe over doping bans

Vladimir Putin with pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva at the Kremlin. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo
Vladimir Putin with pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva at the Kremlin. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo

Ben Rumsby

Vladimir Putin has condemned the expulsion of all but one member of Russia's athletics team from the Olympics as "pure discrimination" as the country continues to rail against being found guilty of state-sponsored doping.

Putin denounced the Sebastian Coe-led International Association of Athletics Federations as "short-sighted politicians", accusing it of having "gone beyond legal boundaries as well as beyond the point of common sense" by banning 67 of the rogue nation's 68-strong track-and-field squad from Rio.

Russia's attitude to the increasing number of members of its Olympic team being denied admission was laid bare during a farewell event in Moscow, at which many of them shamelessly posed for smiling selfies with disgraced sports minister Vitaly Mutko.

But it was Putin who assumed the role of head cheerleader, the 63-year-old former KGB officer bidding the country's athletes good luck, calling them "winners" and promising them financial rewards if they won medals in Rio.

Their hopes of doing so were boosted yesterday when the governing bodies of fencing - led by billionaire Putin ally and Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov - volleyball, equestrianism and table tennis became the latest to clear all the Russians under their jurisdiction to compete.

Previously there had been a wave of expulsions from the federations in charge of swimming, rowing, sailing, canoeing and modern pentathlon, seriously depleting what had been a 387-strong team.

More than 100 have now been banned, with dozens more expected to follow once their drug-testing records have been assessed by an independent arbiter from the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But it was the near-blanket ban by the IAAF that most riled the Russia president.

"We can't accept indiscriminate disqualification of our athletes with an absolutely clean doping history," Putin told an audience in Red Square which included banned athletes.

"We cannot and will not accept what in fact is pure discrimination.

"It's a well-planned campaign which targeted our athletes, which included double standards and the concept of collective punishment which has nothing to do with justice or even basic legal norms.

"Not only have our athletes who never faced any specific accusations been hurt; this is a blow to the entire global sports and the Olympic Games.

"Clearly, the absence of Russian athletes, who were leaders in some of the sports, will affect the competition."

Putin spoke while standing alongside two-time Olympic pole-vaulting champion Yelena Isinbayeva, the most high-profile of the 67 track-and-field athletes expelled from the Games.

Fighting back tears, Isinbayeva told Rio-bound Russian athletes: "Show them what you're able to do - for yourself and for us, too."

Russia's track-and-field team were banned after a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned investigation uncovered state-sponsored doping in the country, which a second Wada-funded report last week revealed was even more insidious than previously thought.

That led to calls for the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee to ban the entire Russian delegations from Rio, calls that the IOC resisted but the IPC looks set to heed.

Putin's attack followed a last-ditch attempt by Mutko - whom the second report identified as complicit in the cover-up of drug-taking and who has been banned from attending Rio 2016 - to persuade IAAF president Coe to reconsider the track-and-field expulsion.

Short shrift

But his personal letter to Coe received short shrift, with the IAAF saying in a statement yesterday: "We received a letter from Minister Mutko yesterday requesting a review of Russian athletes.

"We have responded to the minister explaining the IAAF's eligibility rules have been upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. There are no grounds for further review."

All 68 of Russia's track and field athletes have been banned, though long jumper Darya Klishina has been cleared to compete as a "neutral".

Yuliya Stepanova, the 800m runner whose evidence helped expose the Russian doping scandal, will not be allowed to do the same, however.

The IAAF had previously cleared her to compete, but the IOC's latest ruling disallows any athlete with a previous doping ban.

In total, there have been 108 Russians banned from competing, with more expected to follow. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport