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17 Aug, 2022 12:23

Russian gymnast refuses to compete for EU nation after scandal

Jelizaveta Polstjanaja has opted out of representing Latvia at future events
Russian gymnast refuses to compete for EU nation after scandal

Jelizaveta Polstjanaja, the rhythmic gymnast who was born in Latvia to Russian parents, has announced she will no longer represent the country of her birth on the international stage amid a row in which she claims she was asked to renounce her Russian citizenship in order to continue with the Latvian team. 

Polstjanaja, 19, was at the center of a scandal after she said on Instagram earlier this month that she had received an ultimatum from the Latvian gymnastics authorities in which she was asked to ditch her Russian passport if she wanted to compete at upcoming events such as the World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, next month.

However, this was countered by the Latvian Gymnastics Federation, which said that it had simply enquired if Polstjanaja would be amenable to announcing herself as solely a citizen of Latvia, given that athletes who claim dual citizenship are ineligible for state funding. 

Latvian gymnastics bosses subsequently announced in a statement last week that they would permit Polstjanaja to represent Latvia, but that she would have to fund her own expenses due to her status as a dual citizen of both Latvia and Russia. 

However, Polstjanaja, who had suspended her training during the process, said in a statement that the restrictions placed upon her ability to train and compete by the Latvian Gymnastics Federation has left her with no option but to withdraw from representing the country at future events.

“All this time I kept in shape with home workouts, as I understood that I had no right to train in Russia until the final determination of my status,” she said, per RIA Novosti

“This is prohibited by the Latvian authorities. Together with the coach, having assessed all the circumstances, we came to the understanding that I would not be able to gain the optimal competitive shape in order to adequately perform at the World Championships. The training process was interrupted, and the time for preparation is limited.

“The forced process of preparation in my case is excluded, since I have a number of chronic injuries that require a special approach in training, especially after a long pause.

“I cannot afford to perform at such a significant and responsible tournament as the World Championships without preparation. This is not only my reputation as an athlete, but also the reputation of the country I represent.”

The teenage Polstjanaja added that the furor surrounding the matter had affected her emotional and psychological state, and added that she “needs time” to overcome the issue and assess her goals of one day competing at the Olympics.

“Amendments to the law adopted by the Latvian Olympic Committee (LOK) on May 18, 2022 regarding athletes with Russian citizenship do not allow further progress towards my goal of qualifying and participating in the Olympic Games,” she said.

“Throughout my sports career, my family has fully financed my activities. Getting into the Latvian Olympic team allowed only partially to remove the financial burden from it. Deprivation of funding would never be the reason for the abandonment of my goal. 

“You know that I will not be allowed to take part in qualifying competitions and participate in the Olympic Games in the future.

“Due to the above circumstances, the limitations of my sports activities and the current situation of misunderstanding, I no longer see the possibility of continuing my sports career in Latvia,” concluded the star. 

Russian gymnasts remain banned by global governing authority the FIG, which imposed a ban in early March following the onset of the conflict in Ukraine. 

Latvia has been among the nations to call for harsh sporting sanctions on Russia, with the national parliament, the Saeima, ruling in April that the country's teams and athletes must not compete at any tournaments based in Russia or Belarus.

"Persons violating this provision may no longer be included in national teams or receive funding for training or competition expenses from the State or local government budget,” the decision stated. 

In particular, the move was seen as affecting Latvian ice hockey stars who play in the Russia-based KHL.

They face automatic exclusion from the national team should they sign for Russian teams, although some players – such as goaltender Janis Kalnins – have opted to continue to do so. 

Latvian hockey team Dinamo Riga pulled out of the KHL ahead of the 2022/23 season, having previously been part of the league since 2008.