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Russia: Accusations Fly Over Perceived Judging Bias At Winter Games

  • Francesca Mereu

Vladimir Putin today added his voice to the chorus of Russian critics who say the judging at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City is biased. Also today, the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, voted in favor of the Russian team's abstention from the closing ceremonies on Sunday (24 February) if the International Olympic Committee does not admit the Russian athletes have been subjected to unfair treatment and issue an apology.

Moscow, 22 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Russian government today called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to take measures to normalize the situation surrounding the Russian athletes at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

The Russian Olympic Committee has threatened to pull the Russian team out of the Games if a dispute over what they see as several biased decisions regarding their athletes is not resolved. Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the IOC today for what he called "bad treatment of the Russian athletes." Putin said the Russian athletes have been subject to "non-objective and biased judging."

"One cannot be an expert in all sports, and I certainly cannot make judgments about everything that is going on there, but I find some things very surprising, to put it mildly. And that applies not only to the Russian Olympic team, but to many other participants of the Games from other countries."

Russia, traditionally a winter-sport powerhouse, has won only 5 gold medals at the Salt Lake Olympics. The Games have brought several surprise upsets for the Russian athletes, including a silver medal for figure skater Irina Slutskaya and the disqualification of its women's cross-country relay team after a single skier failed a blood test.

The Russians also said they had been subjected to unfair judging during an ice hockey match against the Czech Republic. The Russians took the game 1-0, but claimed afterward that the officiating showed clear bias against their team. Last week, Russia's Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze took the gold in pairs figure skating only to see their victory marred by days of scandal that left a judge disqualified for apparent cheating and the silver-medal winners, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada, advancing to win a duplicate gold.

Russian Olympic officials yesterday voiced their complaints to IOC officials, including President Jacques Rogge, saying their team would withdraw from the Games if their case was not addressed. IOC Director-General Francois Carrard later said Rogge had dismissed the Russian complaints.

Putin's criticism today extended beyond the IOC to his country's own Olympic officials, who he said had failed to take a sufficiently firm stance in defending the Russian team.

"The position of our sports organizations -- the National Olympic Committee, our representatives in the International Olympic Committee -- is rather surprising. This organization (the Russian NOC) is not affiliated with the state, and in this sense I can only speak as a Russian citizen -- their passive position surprises me."

The issue was also discussed at the Duma today, where an overwhelming majority of deputies voted in favor of not participating in the 24 February closing ceremony of the Winter Games unless the IOC admits that the Russian team has been given unfair treatment and offers an apology. The Duma, however, has no formal authority over the National Olympic Committee, and it is not clear how the resolution will be interpreted.

At the Duma today, deputy parliamentary speaker Lyubov Slizka said everything was being done to prevent the Russians from achieving decent results at the Winter Games.

Duma presidential representative Alexander Kotenkov, who is also president of the Russian Sailing Federation, told RFE/RL he also believes Russian athletes have been judged unfairly at the Salt Lake Games. But he says he does not agree with the threat by Leonid Tygachev, the head of the National Olympic Committee, to pull the Russian team from remaining competition -- and future Olympic Games -- if the dispute is not resolved in their favor.

"It is clear that the judging is biased. [I think that] a political fight is going on in the Olympic arena. But at the same time, I don't agree with what the head of the Russian Olympic Committee, Leonid Tygachev, said. He said that if the judges don't change their decision, we won't take part in the summer Olympic Games [in Athens]. As the president of the Russian Sailing Federation, I can say that we have already put in so much effort in order to be ready to take part in those Games, that we won't agree with this decision. [Tygachev] also said that we can refuse to take part in the [remaining] ice hockey and the skiing competition. But I think that we shouldn't do it, we need to fight to the end."

The Russian ice hockey team is scheduled to meet the U.S. team for a semifinal match tonight.

Sergei Mitrokhin of the liberal Yabloko faction told RFE/RL he believes the Russians should not act now while emotions are high.

"I don't agree with those [who want to pull our team out of the Games]. If you listen to your emotions you end up doing things you'll regret later. It is very dangerous to become an outcast, to shut the door and go away. Nobody will remember you after that. Now we should use all the legal means we have in our country and examine the discriminating decisions concerning our country and then ask the Olympic Committee to act fairly."

Gennadi Raikov, head of the People's Deputy faction, told RFE/RL he believes that a plot against the Russian team is under way at Salt Lake City. For that reason he says the Russian sportsmen should not take part in the closing games.

"This is a clear political line taken in order to discriminate against Russian sportsmen. I think that our team has to make a decision not to take part in the closing games. I'm sure that our team will be backed by teams from other countries."