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29 Mar, 2022 17:31

Norway’s boycott of Russia caused safety fears, admits Olympic ski champ

The Norwegian Ski Federation issued a blunt statement following the start of the attack on Ukraine
Norway’s boycott of Russia caused safety fears, admits Olympic ski champ

Russian skiers feared for their safety at events after Norway made a strongly-worded boycott announcement following the start of the attack on Ukraine, three-time Olympic cross-country skiing champion Alexander Bolshunov has admitted.

Ski chiefs in Norway – the only country to win more medals than the Russian Olympic Committee at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games – condemned the attack four days after it started, insisting that Russians were not welcome at the packed World Cup program.

“The Norwegian Ski Federation’s message to Russia and Russian athletes is crystal clear," it said in a statement calling for sanctions against Russia. "We do not want your participation."

The International Ski Federation (FIS) banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing at its events a day later.

The Norwegian representatives had put pressure on the FIS, while the International Olympic Committee encouraged sporting federations to take similar action against athletes from the two nations.

All three of the World Cup events immediately following the ban took place in Norway.

Now Bolshunov, who became 30km skiathlon world champion in 2021 and took the title in the same event in Beijing alongside the 50km freestyle and 4×10km relay titles, has spoken out.

“This is no good – respect should have been present, but in that situation people apparently forgot everything and began to influence us in other ways, although we are athletes and come to compete honestly and cleanly," Bolshunov told Russia-24 via RIA.

"There was a lot of negativity in Norway... if we ran a race that had a lot of Norwegian fans, it wouldn't be safe to run there. Anything could happen."

With his season prematurely ended, Bolshunov believes the competitive excitement of the sport has also been curtailed by the ban.

“When the strongest skiers are excluded, it will be just the Norwegian championship, since the Russian team is a direct competitor," he said.

"At the Olympic Games, we proved that we are one of the main [teams] in skiing. We deserve [to compete for] the Olympic Games, World Championships, World Cup.

"Competition should be a fair fight, a clean fight – and when this does not happen, it is no longer a sport."