By Andrew Osborn and Denis Dyomkin
MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said a shadowy political plot had succeeded in unfairly stripping some Russian sportspeople of the right to compete at the Rio Olympics over doping allegations and promised to defend Russia’s tarnished sporting reputation.
Addressing members of Russia’s Olympic team in the Kremlin on Wednesday, Putin said a decision by global sporting organizations to ban Russian track-and-field athletes and sportspeople in everything from swimming to rowing flew in the face of common sense and legality.
“The deliberate campaign targeting our athletes was characterized by so-called double standards and opted for the idea of collective responsibility, which is not compatible with sport, justice, or the basic norms of law,” said Putin.
“It is an attempt to apply the rules which unfortunately dominate in geopolitics to the sporting world,” he said, hitting out at what he called “short-sighted political schemers.”
With Russia months away from parliamentary elections and stuck in an economic crisis, the scandal, which centers on allegations the Russian government and the FSB security service covered up doping for years, has rocked the Russian sports world and tarnished Putin’s showcase 2014 winter Olympics.
But his tactic of pinning the blame on a shadowy plot, which he has previously suggested emanates in the West, taps into voters’ patriotism and analysts say the imbroglio is unlikely to hurt his stratospheric ratings.
THE RUSSIAN CHARACTER
Putin, a keen practitioner of judo and ice hockey, made his comments to over 100 sportspeople, some of whom have been banned from going to the Rio Games next month because of doping allegations by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and other federations.
He spoke after the IAAF said there were “no grounds for further review” of its original decision.
Occasionally looking glassy-eyed and emotional, Putin complained that many of those prevented from going had not been served with specific or proven doping accusations.
“It is obvious that the absence of Russian sportspeople — leaders in many sporting disciplines — will significantly affect the intensity of the competition and diminish the spectator value of the forthcoming events,” said Putin.
Any medal won in Rio in the absence of Russian athletes would be worth much less than usual, he added, predicting many victories would be hollow.
Pledging tough action against any sportspeople guilty of doping as well as the creation of a system to prevent the practice, Putin said someone was trying to rewrite the Olympics’ founding principles — of equality, fairness and mutual respect.
The atmosphere at the meeting, held in a glittering hall in the Kremlin, was somber.
Double Olympic champion pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, one of the athletes unable to attend Rio because of the scandal, became emotional when she spoke after Putin, saying her Olympic dream and that of others had been stolen.
Putin said Russians excelled in the face of adversity.
“There is an important and wonderful quality about the Russian character,” said Putin. “Difficulties only unite us and make us stronger.”
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov and Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Richard Balmforth)