Putin slams discrimination as banned athletes join send-off
Russian President Vladimir Putin hit out at "discrimination" against the country's banned track and field athletes at a Kremlin send-off ceremony yesterday for their depleted Olympic team.
Fencers and triathletes became the latest team of Russians to be cleared to compete in the Olympics by their sports' governing bodies ahead of the Moscow ceremony, but the IAAF rejected a bid by the bulk of the track and field team to be reinstated.
More than 100 Russians from the 387-strong Olympic team have been banned so far from going to Rio de Janeiro.
"We can't accept indiscriminate disqualification of our athletes with an absolutely clean doping history," Putin said. "We cannot and will not accept what in fact is pure discrimination."
Putin said the athletes banned from the Olympics were victims of a campaign to present Russian sports in a bad light. He spoke with two-time Olympic pole-vaulting champion Yelena Isinbayeva, the most high-profile of the 67 track and field athletes banned from the Games, standing beside him.
WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Fighting back tears, Isinbayeva told Rio-bound Russian athletes: "Show them what you're able to do for yourself and for us, too."
As the athletes walked across Red Square to meet Putin, some posed for selfies with Vitaly Mutko, whose sports ministry was accused by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) of orchestrating the doping cover-up. The sports minister has been blocked by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from attending the Games next month, but he remains in Putin's government.
The IAAF is the only sport to impose a near-blanket ban on Russians, only deeming one long jumper Darya Klishina eligible for Rio.
"The situation went beyond the legal field as well as common sense," Putin told the audience, which included many of the banned athletes. "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."