The International Association for Athletic Federations banned the Russian track and field team from Rio’s Summer Olympic Games on Friday for what it called “top down” doping violations. And when the news arrived, Russian President Vladimir Putin was delivering an unusually pro-Western speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Putin told the forum’s participants that America was “the only super-power” and stressed that “we accept that.” Later, some experts suggested that Putin’s speech was an effort to make peace with Washington.
The Russian president said that Russia was not angry with the West for the economic sanctions over the country’s Ukrainian intervention and that his country was open to partnership relations to the European Union. Russian leader sounded as if he made up his mind to open a new page.
“He did not know about the ban, when he spoke,” Aleksey Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Echo of Moscow radio, told The Daily Beast.
But shortly after Putin finished his address, the forum’s participants and Russia’s business and political elite grouped to discuss the country’s latest punishment that they believe the West had invented. This time, it was over the doping scandal.
Both conservative and liberal observers agreed that without its track athletes, Russia would appear very weak at the Games this summer. In 2012, Russian track and field athletes brought home 8 out of the country’s 24 golden medals. One of them, speedwalker Sergey Kirdpakin, was stripped of his gold in March.
“This is an unfair decision. Clean athletes—those not involved in the scandal—should be able to participate in the Games,” Vladimir Ryzhkov, an opposition leader and a participant at the forum, told The Daily Beast.
Mere minutes after Putin said that Russia was not angry with the West, top Russian officials fumed, issuing angry comments about “the hostility” towards Russian athletes.
“This is a result of an aggressive information campaign,” Aleksei Pushkov, the head of the international affairs committee at the State Duma, told TASS news agency.
“The entire doping scandal is a pure falsification, invented to discredit and humiliate Russia,” parliament member Vadim Dengin told The Daily Beast.
The Olympic Games are vital to Russian culture, wherein sports and national teams have been glorified for decades. One of Russia’s most celebrated athletes, two-time Olympic medalist Yelena Isinbayeva, declared that the IAAF’s decision was “discrimination based on a nationality principle” and that Russia should complain about the abuse of human rights.
Even Ukraine stepped in to defend Russia. Secretary General of the Athletic Federation Yevgeni Medved said that allowing Russian athletes to participate in the Rio’s Games would be a much wiser decision for the IAAF.
“Russian athletes are highly qualified,” Medved said. “They would be missed at the Olympic Games.”