Removing a strong rival?
Russian Paralympic athletes and their coaches have reacted with shock and anger after the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected an appeal on a blanket Rio ban. “They killed my dream” and “a humiliation of people with disabilities” were two of the responses from athletes. CAS on Tuesday rejected an appeal over a decision to bar all Russian athletes from the Rio Paralympic Games, set to take place September 7-18. The appeal had been filed by the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC). The initial decision to suspend the Russian Paralympic Committee was taken unanimously by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on August 7.
“My attitude? What attitude can a person have if a dream of their life… is killed …as if we are not humans?” a tearful Irina Vertinskaya, who was hoping to compete in the javelin and discus events, told RT. The athlete has overcome immense personal hurdles to try and make it to Rio. She grew up in an orphanage and was adopted on three occasions, however each time she was sent back to the children’s home. “Show me proof that I am guilty,” said Irina, apparently addressing the members of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. “Then I will believe that I am guilty.”
Eight-time Paralympic champion Oksana Savchenko, who competes in swimming events for the visually-impaired, called the decision “shocking.” “We were sure that our [Russian Paralympic] team will go [to Rio]… For some of them the Rio Games would be the last.” She added that the court decision was probably due to the fact that the Russian team has performed successfully in recent years.
Paralympic team swimming coach Yury Nazarenko said the Games would be ridiculous and dull without Russian athletes. "…Over the past four years, our athletes and swimmers were among the world’s two strongest teams, and it is 60-70 percent of medals at the Paralympics,” he said.
The decision also came as a shock for running coach Elena Malchikova. “We believed up to the last second that common sense would win,” she told RT. But the athletes shouldn’t give up, she said, adding that the Paralympians will “continue living and training.”
Winter Paralympic Games champion Roman Petushkov believes that the CAS move is a humiliation of Paralympic athletes. “We are shocked [and] depressed. This is inhuman treatment and humiliation of people with disabilities... I believe we should fight and defend our rights to the end,” Petushkov, who won three gold medals and one silver in skiing events at Sochi 2014, told TV channel Rossiya 24.
In upholding the IPC’s imposition of a blanket ban on Russia’s Paralympic team, CAS has made a politically-motivated decision, rather than a judicial ruling, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said. “The ruling falls out of the legal framework: it is more political than judicial. There were no grounds to reject [the appeal]; but that’s what happened,” Mutko said.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the CAS move “cynical” and a blow to all people with special needs. "This is a doubly cynical decision since we are talking about people who overcome themselves on a daily basis. This is a blow to all people with disabilities, not only Russians," he wrote on Facebook. “This decision makes it obvious that some of the leaders of the international Paralympic movement want to put a strong rival out of the way, as our team always takes high places in the ranking.” “International sports federations are influenced by the ‘FIFA case’ and are scared by US trans-border justice. Some of them are paralyzed. That is why doping is quickly found in some countries and never in others,” Medvedev wrote in his Facebook post, stressing that “this is absolutely double standards.” The Russian prime minister added that the story with Russian doping “is a thick and very disgusting cocktail made of 80 percent of politics and 20 percent of doping issues.”
"I want to look into the eyes of those people who took this decision. What is their attitude to the protection of rights of people with disabilities?” said Konstantin Dolgov, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs human rights chief.
Russian athletes returning from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games showed their support for the Paralympic team by recording a message while on the flight back to Moscow. They chanted, “Russia’s Paralympic athletes, you are the best! We are with you.” The video was then posted on Instagram by IOC member and two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva. Isinbayeva also denounced the CAS decision as “unjust, unfair, as well as relentless and cruel.” “We were expecting that most Paralympic team members would be allowed [to compete] but you see what happened. They made a terrible decision,” she told Russian media, adding that she personally shares the Paralympic athletes’ pain and sorrow. “Every one of you is our pride, our hero … we are with you,” she added, calling on the athletes to “be strong.” “Politics will end and sport will live on,” she also stressed, adding that “for Russia, you were, you are and you will be heroes.”
“Until now, the World Anti-Doping Agency has not provided any concrete evidence of Russian athletes doping. Moreover, the Investigative Committee’s requests for assistance [in this case] sent to Canada, the US, and Switzerland were left unanswered,” the Russian Investigative Committee’s spokesman, Vladimir Markin, told Russian media.
He also said that the Committee has no evidence of the involvement of Russian sports officials in distributing prohibited drugs to athletes. Markin stressed that Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory, who subsequently moved to the US and provided the information for Canadian law professor Richard McLaren’s report, was subordinate only to WADA and not to the Russian authorities, implying that it could have been some WADA officials that had ordered him to destroy the Russian athletes’ doping tests.