Accessibility links

Russian Wrestling In Disarray Amid Brawls, Boycotts, Doping Scandals

  • Ron Synovitz
  • Merhat Sharipzhan

With tempers flaring amid the fierce competition for spots on the country's 2016 Olympic wrestling team, brawls have broken out at several matches -- including a fight during a junior competition in the city of Stary Oskol, where a pistol was pulled out in the ring by a bodyguard of a Chechen wrestler.

With tempers flaring amid the fierce competition for spots on the country's 2016 Olympic wrestling team, brawls have broken out at several matches -- including a fight during a junior competition in the city of Stary Oskol, where a pistol was pulled out in the ring by a bodyguard of a Chechen wrestler.

Russia's national wrestling team is in disarray ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and it's not just the allegations of state-sponsored doping.

With tempers flaring amid the fierce competition for spots on the country's 2016 Olympic wrestling team, brawls have broken out at several matches -- including a fight during a junior competition in the city of Stary Oskol, where a pistol was pulled out in the ring by a bodyguard of a Chechen wrestler.

Boycotts also have been staged by some of the best Russian wrestlers to protest controversial referee decisions at Olympic qualifying matches.

A national scandal over the boycotts prompted Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko to announce, on June 1, that additional tournaments will be staged so that all Russia's best wrestlers have a chance to make the Olympic team.

Meanwhile, wrestling fans in the Siberian city of Yakutsk on June 1 launched a petition drive and staged a rally urging the local favorite, two-time world champion Viktor Lebedev, to reconsider his decision to turn down his spot on the Olympic team.

Lebedev says that during the quarterfinals of the Russian championships in Yakutsk on May 27, referees unfairly ruled in his favor to please the crowd. The ruling allowed Lebedev to advance beyond the quarterfinals and eventually win the finals of his weight division -- and earn a ticket to Rio.

But it also denied Ismail Musukayev, from the North Caucasus region of Daghestan, a chance to make the Olympic team. Musukayev was so angry about the decision in Yakutsk that he began shoving Lebedev at the end of their match.

Riot police in camouflage fatigues entered the ring to break up the fight and prevent it from escalating into a full-scale brawl between the Yakutia and Daghestan teams -- both of which include some of Russia's top Olympic prospects.

Daghestan's team was so outraged by the ruling against Musukayev that its members boycotted their remaining matches at the Russian championship in Yakutsk, which were meant to determine who qualified for the Olympics.

Without the additional tournaments announced by Mutko, Daghestan's move would have kept its wrestlers off the Russian Olympic team for Rio.

Lebedev announced later that he was withdrawing from the Olympic team as "a matter of honor." He said he didn't doubt that he could win Olympic gold in Rio, but he "wouldn't be especially happy" about his Olympic dream coming true if dubious calls allowed him to make the team.

However, Russian Freestyle Wrestling Federation President Mikhail Mamiashvili issued a harsh statement on June 1 that said Lebedev cannot decide on his own to quit the team.

Mamiashvili said such a move required a collective decision by Lebedev's coaches, the regional Sakha-Yakutia Wrestling Federation, and the national federation. He said that "Lebedev made his statement while being under moral and psychological pressure," and that the announcement "at this point remains" only Lebedev's personal view.

In Yakutsk's central square late on June 1, hundreds of wrestling fans joined a rally to urge Lebedev to stay on the Russian team.

After performing a traditional Yakutian dance called Osukhai, about 400 men and women at the rally signed a petition telling Lebedev that he made "a real man's decision that deserves respect, but you cannot deprive your own people their Olympic hopes."

Rally organizer Nikolai Byastinov argued that Lebedev "must continue" to wrestle for Russia and "go to the Rio Olympics" for the sake of the people of Yakutia and his fans.

Byastinov also said Lebedev "has gone through so much" and that "so much energy and money has been spent that it will never do to just cancel everything that has been done."

Ultimately, however, the scandals in Russian wrestling over brawls, boycotts, and referee rulings could turn out to be irrelevant at Rio. That's because it's still not clear whether a Russian wrestling team will be allowed to compete in the 2016 Olympics at all.

In March, Mamiashvili announced that two top Russian wrestlers, 2014 World Championship silver medalist Yevgeny Saleyev and 2015 World Cup silver medalist Sergei Semyonov, had tested positive for using the performance-enhancing drug meldonium.

With initial tests showing that Russian athletes in at least 10 different sports also tested positive for the banned drug, and with allegations that the Russian government has been running a state-sponsored doping system, it is conceivable that the International Olympic Committee could issue a ruling banning all Russian sports teams from competing at Rio.

Mamiashvili said in late March that "there are tens of positive tests in the team" and that "everyone is in bad condition psychologically." He also said "it may happen that simply none of us goes" to the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, BBC, TASS, and R-Sport
XS
SM
MD
LG