Guardian calls Belarus flag protest at Paralympics ‘mutiny,’ elicits scorn from Moscow

Russian Foreign Ministry's spokesperson Maria Zakharova © Eugene Odinokov
A Guardian article which criticizes the Belarusian Paralympic team for displaying the Russian flag at the opening of the Rio Paralympic Games is a display of “modern fascism,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson has said.

“After the appearance of the Russian flag at the stadium, this media outlet [the Guardian] wrote in its article that ‘the color, noise and goodwill on show during the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games was punctured when the Belarus team mounted a protest…’ And it is written by a media outlet of a country that considers itself to be civilized!” Maria Zakharova told a news briefing on Thursday.

“Such articles alongside statements concerning the unavoidability of punishment are [displays of] true modern fascism disguised as something very civilized…,” she added as she criticized the “terrible” Guardian article.

Zakharova also said she “would like to officially invite representatives of the Guardian newspaper to Russia in order to meet Russian Paralympic athletes,” adding that if the newspaper’s journalists “are able to write such things in your warm comfortable offices, [they] probably have enough, if any, strength, courage and conscience to look these people in the eyes.”

On Wednesday, the Guardian published an article in which it called the actions of the Belarusian Paralympic team “a mutiny,” “a show of defiance” and a “protest against the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to ban Russia from Rio 2016.”

The Guardian refused to comment on Zakharova’s statements and said it has “nothing further to add” to the issue in response to an RT enquiry.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) had earlier also branded the actions of the Belarusian athletes “a political protest,” and said it had canceled the accreditation of the man who carried the Russian flag at the opening ceremony.

During the Thursday briefing, Zakharova said the Belarusian who carried the flag was a “hero.” She said the gesture “showed solidarity with the people who were meanly, inhumanely and absolutely groundlessly banned from the Olympic Games,” adding that the man’s actions are beyond politics.

Zakharova also called the actions “a true human deed” which is “of great importance for [Russian] Paralympic athletes and for all of us,” and expressed gratitude to the Belarusian team.

The man who carried the Russian flag was identified as Andrey Fomochkin, a former USSR winter triathlon champion who also served as Belarus' deputy sport and tourism minister.

Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had called the move “a bold act.” The gesture was also supported by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The entire Russian Paralympic team was banned from the Rio Games following a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which accused Russia of state-sponsored doping. The Russian National Paralympic Committee then appealed the ban in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, but failed both times.

As a result, Russia has organized an alternative competition for its athletes in Moscow, while Russian broadcasters have decided not to air the Rio Paralympic Games.