RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) – Serbia’s Novak Djokovic said the doping scandal engulfing Russia was bad for the country and international sport, but he was glad some Russian athletes have been allowed to compete at the Rio Olympics.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accused Russia of running a state-sponsored doping program and called for the country to be banned from the Olympics.
Although Russia avoided an outright suspension, scores of its athletes have been banned by individual federations, including essentially the entire track-and-field team.
World number one Djokovic said Russia was a global power in international sport but the scandal had been damaging for all involved.
“I don’t want to make any kind of stance there because I don’t have adequate details about that case, but at least to some extent I’m glad there are some Russian athletes being part of the Games,” Djokovic told reporters on Wednesday.
“To hear and to read about what was happening in the last couple of months was definitely from an athlete perspective not good; not (good) for Russia, not good for international sport, not good for Olympic games.”
Djokovic’s relief that Russian athletes will compete at Rio was in stark contrast with the view of WADA and many other athletes who have called for the entire Russian team to be banned from the Olympics as a punishment for persistent doping.
Djokovic is the top seed for the tennis tournament at Rio, ahead of defending champion Andy Murray. The 2008 Beijing gold medal winner Rafael Nadal has been seeded third.
The Serb said he was surprised that half of the world’s top-10 seeds had pulled out of the tournament, either through injury or health concerns over the Zika virus.
Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer withdrew because of injuries while the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych pulled out citing concerns over Zika. Other notable absentees include Canadian Milos Raonic and Austrian Dominic Thiem.
“I wasn’t expecting to see so many players at the top of the tennis world pull out but each one of them had their own reason and you gotta respect that,” said Djokovic.
He added the withdrawals had not diminished the competition and winning a gold medal would still require defeating top players such as Murray or Nadal.
“It would mean the world to me (to win gold),” said Djokovic. “It would rank as one of the highest achievements in my career.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)