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‘Taking the flag away from clean athletes is not right’: World champ fencer Yakimenko on WADA ban

‘Taking the flag away from clean athletes is not right’: World champ fencer Yakimenko on WADA ban
Prominent Russian sabre fencer Alexey Yakimenko has commented on the recent four-year ban imposed on Russia, saying it’s not fair to prohibit clean athletes from competing under the national flag.

In an interview with RT, the eight-time world champion talked about the option of performing as a neutral athlete at major sporting events and suggested introducing criminal responsibility for taking performing enhancing drugs in order to root out doping in the country.

READ MORE: US athletes plan protests against Russian participants at 2020 Tokyo Games

The Olympic bronze medalist said the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) decision to ban Russia from international sporting events contradicts the Olympic charter, where it is strongly indicated that Olympic participants represent their countries.

WADA’s decision clearly contradicts the Olympic charter,” Yakimenko told RT. “I truly believe that clean athletes should go to the Olympics having their flag, anthem and uniform to represent their country… I have been tested four times over the past month. Doping officials visited me and other Russian fencers four times. My wife jokes that we should open a doping laboratory at home.”

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The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) has not been accused of anything. So [ROC President Stanislav] Pozdnyakov was right that the decision should not contradict the Olympic charter. If you know that an athlete has never violated the doping rules, they should represent their country with a tricolor flag and national anthem. Taking the flag away from clean athletes is not right,” he added.

The fencer noted, however, that he was not surprised by the WADA ban, taking into account the fact that Russia was already stripped of its national symbols at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

I expected that our country will have troubles. It all started in 2016, when our athletes didn’t know till the last moment whether they will take part in the Rio Olympics,” Yakimenko said.

I do remember that one day before flying to Brazil, I was reading the news while waiting for the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). So, all these issues have existed for several years, and the recent decision was not a surprise for me given that our national symbols were banned at the 2018 Winter Games.”

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When asked whether Russian athletes should boycott the Olympic Games if the ROC fails to overturn the WADA ban in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the 36-year-old said that he would have taken part in the Games even under neutral status.

I don’t think there can be a unique answer to the question whether to participate in the Olympics without a flag or not. Remember the splendid victory of our hockey players at the 2018 Games. They performed as Olympic Athletes from Russia, but they were singing the national anthem following their tremendous win. And everybody knew quite well which country they represented,” Yakimenko told RT.

Of course there are patriots who will refuse to compete without the national flag. But in my point of view, we should participate in the Olympic Games. Olympics are the Everest for an alpinist, but I cannot condemn those who refuse to take part without the flag and anthem,” he said.

Yakimenko also came up with an initiative to introduce criminal responsibility for taking prohibited drugs as a step to completely eradicate doping and protect clean athletes.

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I’m absolutely convinced that people who are guilty must be found and punished. Clean athletes representing sports such as fencing, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, where doping is irrelevant, should not suffer because of the mistakes of other people. Our sport bosses, our president should find and punish people responsible for the scandal,” Yakimenko said.

Honestly, I would offer measures such as criminal responsibility, in order to eradicate doping. In that case, we would have less doping cases. I do remember a case in Italy, in which an athlete accidentally took the wrong pill to cure the flu, and he was forced to leave the country to escape criminal charges. Yes, these are harsh measures, but they should be taken into account if administrative actions don’t work.”

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