The Russian president mixed words of praise with condemnation for international sanctions as he welcomed sports stars to the Kremlin
Russia’s heroes from the Beijing Winter Olympic Games were honored at the Kremlin on Tuesday, where President Vladimir Putin handed out a host of awards and piled praise on their achievements.
But the Russian leader also took the opportunity to attack the sporting sanctions imposed on his country’s athletes, while handing out advice to the likes of teenage figure skating star Kamila Valieva on how to handle pressure.
We select some of the best comments from Putin as he surveyed a sporting landscape which has changed considerably as a result of the military offensive in Ukraine.
‘Discrimination and degradation’
Russian athletes across a wide range of sports have been slapped with bans ever since an International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommendation at the end of February that they should not be invited to competitions.
Putin condemned the treatment of his nation’s sports stars as he addressed the assembled athletes in the Kremlin’s gilded St. Catherine Hall.
“Our athletes were discriminated against for purely political reasons, based on their citizenship and nationality,” said Putin. “This is in no way compatible with the principles of Olympism. Under the guise of recommendations, real sanctions were introduced. “This shows the further commercialization of the Olympic Games, because the dependence of the Olympic and Paralympic movement on sponsors is very large. “And this commercial dependence and further commercialization of Olympism and Paralympism is the path to degradation,” added Putin.
The president reserved particular scorn for the treatment of Russian Paralympians, who were banned
just one day before the 2022 Beijing Winter Games were due to begin back in March. Putin said the ban “not only directly violated the fundamental principles of sport, but basic human rights were openly and cynically violated.” ‘No unfriendly countries’
Putin also touched on the future of Russian sport amid hostility and attempts at isolation from the West.
Russian sports officials have said efforts will be made to hold alternative competitions wherever possible when Russians are banned – such as
the tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk which was arranged for the suspended Paralympians.
Putin was on board with that idea, as well as the notion that foreign athletes should be invited.
“For Russia, there are no unfriendly countries in sports. We are happy to welcome everyone who stands for sport without discrimination and artificial restrictions, for its ideals – the ideals of justice, equality and fair competition,” said the Russian leader. “In the current conditions it is fundamentally important to maintain the competitive activity of athletes. “Canceled competitions need to be replenished with new formats. We can do this quite quickly: organize multi-stage sports tournaments that are open and attractive from all points of view, ensure the participation of foreign athletes, clubs and teams in them,” added Putin. “They create difficulties for us, but always, passing through difficulties, we become stronger, and for this we really have everything. We have evident competitive advantages associated with the size of our country, with its scale, with its different climatic zones, with the development of technology and the growing attention of the state to sports and athletes, to physical culture.” Praise – but room for improvement
Russia’s Winter Olympians – competing in Beijing under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) – left China with 32 medals in total, including six gold.
That put them ninth in the official medal table, although in terms of the overall medal tally Russia’s haul was behind only Norway, whose athletes bagged 37.
Putin said Russian stars had achieved much – but even more could be done.
“Without any exaggeration, your brilliant and strong-willed victories, and all our Olympians, Russian athletes, provided real decoration to the Games,” said Putin as he addressed the gathering of sports stars. “Many fans, not only in our country, but all over the world, looked at this with admiration and rejoiced. You once again proved that you are among the best athletes in the world.”
Later at a meeting of a presidential council devoted to sport, Putin stressed there is room for improvement.
“The winners and medalists of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games are certainly outstanding athletes who won a befitting number of medals,” Putin told sports functionaries. “However… we need to objectively evaluate everything that we are doing. “In this respect, I would like to note that our final team rating is still below what was planned in the Strategy for the Development of Sport, and I would certainly like the minister of sport to report on this.” Valieva’s ‘perfection’… and words of advice
Putin reserved special praise for Russia’s figure skating stars, who were predictably dominant in Beijing.
Russian skaters won gold in the team event and landed a first-second finish in the women’s singles – where Anna Shcherbakova won gold and Alexandra Trusova earned silver.
Putin name-checked Shcherbakova and Trusova for their feats, but also highlighted Valieva – who has yet to receive her team gold medal after she was engulfed by a doping scandal.
The youngster, marking her 16th birthday on her trip to the Kremlin on Tuesday, was praised as achieving
“perfection” – something Putin said could not be done by dishonest means. “[Kamila Valieva] absorbed all the most complex elements of figure skating, its suppleness, beauty, power and tenderness into her talent, and with her work brought sport to the height of real art,” said Putin. “Such perfection cannot be achieved dishonestly, with the help of some additional means or manipulation. Yes, in figure skating all these additional means are not needed, we understand and know this very well.”
In an informal chat with athletes afterwards, Putin offered Valieva advice on dealing with pressure and attacks from critics.
“Most importantly, don’t pay any attention,” said Putin. “True, you are still a very young girl, at that age it’s hard to endure such a wave [of pressure]. “The most important thing here is to collect yourself from within and just work. Everything that is not related to sports can be put aside. “You [will] go further and achieve [more] results and victories. They will 100% happen, absolutely for sure,” promised Putin. ‘Absurd’ ban for Olympic swimming star
Another Russian athlete to find himself at the center of scandal is swimmer Evgeny Rylov – a double gold medalist from the Tokyo Olympics last summer.
was handed a nine-month ban by international swimming federation FINA last week for appearing at a Moscow concert in March which marked the reunification of Russia and Crimea.
The swimmer, 25, took to the stage alongside several other athletes with a
‘Z’ symbol on his jacket – a sign used to show support for Russian forces during the operation in Ukraine.
Putin touched upon Rylov’s case in his speech condemning the treatment of Russian athletes.
“Unfortunately, we are met with cases that take this situation… to the point of absurdity,” said Putin, who had also attended the mass gathering at Luzhniki Stadium. “A very recent example is with our swimmer, Evgeny Rylov. The International Swimming Federation suspended him from competitions for nine months simply for his presence at a concert dedicated to the anniversary of the reunification of Russia and Crimea. “They have brought the matter to complete absurdity,” scorned the Russian president.