Putin says Olympic star’s ban for Moscow concert appearance is ‘absurd’
Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the ban imposed on swimmer Evgeny Rylov as “absurd,” after the double Olympic champion was punished for attending a concert in Moscow.
International swimming federation FINA hit Rylov with a nine-month ban last week for appearing at the event which celebrated the reunification of Russia and Crimea and was partly held under the slogan of 'A World Without Nazism'.
Putin was also present at the spectacle held at Luzhniki Stadium, and in a meeting with Russian Olympic Committee's (ROC) medal-winning athletes from Beijing 2022 on Tuesday, the leader criticized Rylov's ban amid broader sanctions placed on Russian athletes as a response to the military operation in Ukraine.
"We called for the cleansing of sports from politics, which turns sport into [a form of] manipulation. We are being met with cases that are brought to the point of absurdity," Putin said, according to Match TV.
"Recently, the International Swimming Federation suspended Evgeny Rylov for nine months for attending a concert in honor of the reunification of Crimea with Russia.
"Such approaches remain a problem for sport. All this is obvious to Russia."
The defiant Rylov, who won double backstroke gold at the Tokyo 2020 Games, told the Russia 24 TV channel that he won't "lose anything much" from the nine-month suspension, with Russian and Belarusian swimmers already being barred from international competitions by FINA for the remainder of the year.
"I was invited to a concert dedicated to Crimea, and [FINA] people didn't like it. I think this is wrong. On the territory of my country, I myself can choose what to do," Rylov said.
"I shouldn’t be liked by everyone – only my girlfriend, mother and mother-in-law,” he joked.
FINA announced that the weekend that it was launching a fresh investigation regarding Rylov and his participation at the ongoing Russian national championships, with conflicting reports regarding whether his FINA ban would also cover the domestic event.
Russian swimming officials are adamant that Rylov is free to compete as the tournament is not being held under FINA auspices.
Elsewhere at his meeting with the country's sporting heroes, Putin addressed the removal of Russians from international events, including the 2022 Paralympics, whose athletes he had "special words" for.
"You were preparing to present your achievements at the Beijing Games, in an open, honest fight to confirm your well-deserved status as the strongest," Putin said.
"And the way it all turned out, of course, must be criticized: the suspension of athletes from Russia and Belarus not only directly violated the fundamental principles of sports, but openly and, I’m not afraid of this word, cynically violated the very basic human rights...
"All this, unfortunately, shows further commercialization, because the dependence is very large on sponsors, on the 'moneybags' of the Paralympic movement, [and] the Olympic movement. This dependence is commercial, and further commercialization of Paralympism and Olympism is, of course, the path to degradation, unfortunately.
"Russia has constantly warned its partners against using double standards and the principle of collective responsibility in sports. Guided by the Olympic Charter, we are convinced that the Games are not competitions of countries, but of athletes, [and] we called for the cleansing of sport from policies that consistently devalue all its values, [and] turn sport into a tool of manipulation," Putin added, as quoted by the Kremlin press service.
Amid the suspensions, Putin promised that his office will "make every effort to ensure the rights of our athletes" and will hold competitions "open to all our friends and real partners, such as the World Olympians Association and the International Military Sports Council, which supported Russian athletes".
Regarding the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) team's performance at Beijing 2022, where they finished ninth in the medals table with six golds, but achieved an overall tally of 32 medals – which was second only to Norway – Putin was complimentary but suggested that the team had still performed below expectations.
Putin said the Beijing 2022 winners were "outstanding," but that the final place in the medal standings was "still lower than planned in the sports development strategy."
"I asked the minister of sports today, of course, about this report," Putin said.