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16 Aug, 2022 13:16

Biathlete suffers ‘mass of hate’ over citizenship switch

Former junior star Ekaterina Bekh has returned to Russia after leaving the Ukrainian team
Biathlete suffers ‘mass of hate’ over citizenship switch

Former two-time junior world biathlon champion Ekaterina Bekh has faced resentment over her return to compete in Russia after previously representing Ukraine, according to one official.

The Khabarovsk-born Bekh, 23, initially competed for Russia before making the switch to Ukraine in 2018.

She went on to win double gold at the IBU 2019 Junior World Championship, and made her senior World Cup debut for Ukraine in the 2020/21 season.

However, after the onset of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in February, Bekh found herself forced out of the Ukrainian team in a scandal which ultimately saw the departure of longtime Ukrainian Biathlon Federation boss Vladimir Brynzak.

Bekh is now back in Russia and will initially compete for the Moscow Region team, including at the Commonwealth Cup later this year.

The ordeal, though, has led to criticism for Bekh from some quarters, according to Moscow Region biathlon boss Aleksey Nuzhdov.

Nuzhdov also said Bekh would need to reacquire a Russian passport, having relinquished it to compete for Ukraine.

“She is applying for citizenship, she did not have a Russian passport, and before completing the issue of obtaining it, she needs to complete the issue of acquiring citizenship. This is a rather time-consuming procedure, but it is coming to an end,” Nuzhdov, who is also Russian Biathlon Union vice-president, told Match TV.

“Of course, Ekaterina gets a mass of hate. We communicate with her quite often, the team is very friendly,” added the official.

“We are ready to provide support at any time. Now she is calmly, confidently preparing for the Commonwealth Cup.”

Also speaking on Match TV, two-time Olympic biathlon champion Dmitry Vasilyev urged compassion for Bekh’s case and those in a similar situation.  

“The transition [of athletes] from Russia to Ukraine, to Belarus, Moldova, and Romania used to be a common occurrence. No one has ever drawn a political aspect to this,” said Vasilyev, who won gold for the Soviet Union at the 1984 and 1988 Winter Games.

“I think, although it is almost impossible, but we must pull the sport out of the political context. Maybe this assumption will cause a smile, but what if some crazy athletes start shooting each other on the track?”

Vasilyev went on to accuse International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach of fueling the flames of resentment after his organization recommended a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes.

“Many times I have applied definitions to Mr. Bach who, in my opinion, is the main pest and destroyer of the Olympic movement, which calls for the exclusion of Russians from competitions in all sports,” Vasilyev told Match TV.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, the International Biathlon Union (IBU) announced that its Executive Board has recommended a continued blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes and the suspension of the two countries’ memberships.

The issue will be discussed at the IBU Congress in Austria in September.