‘They’ll regret it’: Russian Rio champions slam ban on Paralympic team, say it degraded competition

Members of the Russian Olympic team attend a welcoming ceremony as they return home from the 2016 Rio Olympics, at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia, August 23, 2016 © Maxim Zmeyev
Russia’s Olympic team denounced the blanket ban on Russian Paralympians as “horrible,” “unfair,” and “wrong,” while speaking to RT after landing in Moscow. The team had to come home, as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected Russia’s appeal.

“I think it’s horrible. I’m very sorry for the athletes who have gone a long way and overcome a lot and, in the end, have been banned from this competition, probably, the competition of their lives,” said Aleksander Lesun, the Olympic champion in the modern pentathlon.

The upcoming Games may have been the only chance for some of the disabled Russian athletes to compete in the prestigious sporting event because a number of them have deteriorating health conditions, and the Paralympics is held only every four years.

The CAS’s ruling, which upheld the blanket ban imposed on the entire Russian team by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), also stripped the athletes of the right to appeal as individuals, thus shattering any remaining hopes they may have had.

The controversial verdict has been criticized by Russian sportsmen and officials alike, who slammed it as politically motivated, while arguing that it infringes on the human rights of all clean athletes.

“I believe that sport should be outside politics. I think, it will backfire,” Lesun saud, while wishing the Russian Para athletes patience and resilience.

READ MORE: Removing a strong rival? Russia shocked by ‘cynical & political’ CAS ruling on Paralympic team ban

The main source of evidence against the Russian Olympic teams was a report released on July 18 by Canadian sports lawyer Richard McLaren that was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and hastily completed in the two months before the Olympics. The timing of the decision has prompted many to question the IPC’s motives in requesting the ban.

“I have looked up the results of the previous Paralympics. We had some 30 gold medals there, and the team that came in second had only five or six gold. I think this can be [the reason],” said Abdulrashid Sadulaev, the 86-kilogram men’s wrestling champion at the Rio Olympics.

Evgeny Tishchenko, the only Russian boxer to take gold in Rio, noted that the IPC’s decision has not only upset Russian athletes and sports lovers, but also dealt a blow to all sportsmen that had hoped for a fair competition.

“I think [athletes] of all countries regret [the decision]. We spoke to the representatives of other Russian-speaking countries at the Olympics and everybody asked us if our Paralympians would take part,” he said.

“Everybody is very upset and indignant about the IPC decision,” he added.

Vlada Chigireva, a gold medalist in synchronized swimming, described the CAS’s verdict as “very sad news” not only for athletes, but “horrible news for Russia as a whole.”

“This is a blatant impudence, to specifically disallow the disabled athletes from competing. I think, they will regret it, and the Paralympics without Russia will not be the same Paralympics,” Chigireva told RT, while encouraging Russian Para athletes not to give up their aspirations.

“We support them very much; we are very proud of them; we hope that they will not give up and work further.”

Another Russian gold medalist from the synchronized swimming team, Alexandra Patskevich, echoed her teammate, calling the ban a “big injustice.”

“I believe, there is a God, the earth is round, and everything backfires. Hang in there, guys, we are with you,” she said, addressing the Russian Para athletes.

Svetlana Kolesnichenko, another member of the synchronized team, expressed hope that the IPC could still reverse its decision.

“First of all, it is the only chance for many Paralympians to compete in the games. It is, of course, a sorrow and a horror, and the organizers show no regret and refuse to admit they were wrong,” she said.

“I hope, that they will come to their senses, think it over, and allow our undefeatable team to compete,” she stressed.

Dzhambolat Tedeyev, the head coach of Russia’s freestyle wrestling team, compared the constant struggle between Russian and international sports institutions to warfare, while noting that, according to ancient tradition, hostilities should be set aside during the Games.

“We are at war today. Earlier it was said that sport is an ambassador for peace and all wars were stopped, but now they stoke tensions and add fuel to the flames,” Tedeyev said, casting doubt on the impartiality of the IPC’s decision.

“I cannot grasp one thing: why, if they are so objective, so fair, then why do they let some people compete and forbid others from doing so. The rules should be the same for everybody,” he stressed, referring to doping cases that have emerged in other national sports federations that haven’t led to such strong sanctions from the IOC or IPC.

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