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6 Apr, 2022 12:42

Russian athletes not ‘traitors’ if they change citizenship – Olympic ice queen

Tatiana Navka said Russian sports stars should not be judged if they take the step
Russian athletes not ‘traitors’ if they change citizenship – Olympic ice queen

Any Russian athletes who are considering changing their citizenship in the face of widespread sporting sanctions should not be branded “traitors,” according to former Olympic ice dance queen Tatiana Navka.

Russian and Belarusian sports stars have been barred from a host of international competitions in the wake of Moscow’s military assault on Ukraine, with uncertainty over when the extensive bans will be lifted.

That has led to speculation that a wave of athletes from the two nations could look to acquire citizenship elsewhere to dodge the sporting sanctions.

But according to Navka, who scooped Olympic gold in 2006 and is double world champion, anyone taking the step should not be censured in their homeland.

“As for athletes changing citizenship, I can say that you should not react so sharply to their actions and tar everyone with the same brush,” Navka told RBC Sport.

“It is not worth indiscriminately calling everyone traitors. Everyone has their own life, their own story, and their own reasons. Everyone has the right to their choice,” added the 46-year-old, who is married to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The likes of iconic figure skating coach Tatiana Tarasova have not ruled out that the current bans on Russians – which saw them miss the Figure Skating World Championships in France last month – could lead to them changing citizenship, especially if the situation drags on.

Tarasova, however, laid the blame firmly at the door of the International Skating Union (ISU) after it announced a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes at the beginning on March following a recommendation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

“ISU criminals are taking the lives of our athletes,” said the veteran coaching icon.

“We are not to blame for this, but the ISU. They are the traitors. Therefore, in this case, the change of sports citizenship will not be considered a betrayal, in my opinion. I will definitely not condemn the athletes for their decision.”

That opinion contrasts starkly with comments from the likes of world heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev, who said he would consider it a betrayal if any Russian sports personalities switched allegiances in the current climate. 

“Changing sports citizenship is a real betrayal. Therefore, few people dare to do this,” said the 7ft giant, who is now a State Duma Deputy.

After being banned from the World Championships in Montpellier, figure skating stars such as Olympic champion Anna Shcherbakova and fellow teenage sensation Kamila Valieva appeared at the Channel One Cup exhibition event in the Russian city of Saransk.

The ISU announced on Tuesday that it was gauging the opinions of its members before making further decisions on the participation of Russian and Belarusian skaters, ahead of a meeting on April 24.