Vladimir Putin accuses ‘certain American bodies’ of conspiring to keep Russia out of Olympics

The excluded nation has already spent more than US$17 million preparing its team for the Pyeongchang games, which kick off in February

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 10:26pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 10:26pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks he knows why the International Olympic Committee has not yet approved Russia to compete in next year’s Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. And it does not have to do with accusations that Russia maintained a widespread, state-sanctioned doping programme for years.

Instead, Putin said in televised comments on Thursday, Russia’s possible exclusion is the doing of the United States.

“We aren’t simply guessing about this, we know about it,” Putin said, according to Associated Press.

His theory goes like this: The IOC depends on sponsorship income, much of which comes from “certain American bodies”. It is these unnamed bodies, which Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov clarified on Friday are “state [structures], including through social and non-government organisations”, which are giving “clear signals” to keep Russia out or – if they are feeling generous – to allow Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag. Putin said both outcomes would be “degrading” to the country, which hosted the 2014 Games and, according to Russian cable news outlet RT, has already spent more than US$17 million preparing Team Russia for the Pyeongchang Olympics that kick off in February.

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Although the Kremlin did not name it, one such US-based entity that has urged the IOC to be thorough in making its decision whether to bar Russia is the US Anti-Doping Agency. Last month, USADA joined 16 other international anti-doping groups in calling for a continued ban on Russia.

“A country’s sport leaders and organisations should not be given credentials to the Olympics when they intentionally violate the rules and rob clean athletes. This is especially unfair when athletes are punished when they violate the rules,” the 17 organisations, collectively called the National Anti-Doping Organisation, said in a September 14 statement following a two-day meeting in Colorado.

Russia has never admitted to the alleged state-sponsored doping programme, the details of which came to light last December in a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation conducted by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren. Known as the McLaren report, the investigation concluded a state-sponsored elaborate doping system and associated cover-up began in at least 2011 and continued beyond the 2014 Olympics hosted by Russia in the resort city of Sochi.

It is impossible to know how deep and how far back the conspiracy goes,” McLaren said. “For years, international sports competition has been unknowingly hijacked by the Russians. Coaches and athletes have been playing on an uneven field. Sports fans and spectators have been deceived. It’s time that this stops.”

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Putin has scoffed at the idea that Russia ran a state-sponsored programme, although he has called on the country’s anti-doping agency to reform. As of last month, Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said RUSADA “has been brought to an absolutely new level”.

“Yes, Russia has been through a serious crisis recently,” Kolobkov admitted while speaking at an anti-doping conference in Paris last month, according to Russian news agency TASS. “But this situation prompted us to step up anti-doping measures in sports. We have received incredible experience in overcoming this crisis, and we are ready to share it.”

The IOC said this week that it remains unsure of when it might make its final decision about whether to ban Russia from Pyeongchang.

“I hope that the IOC Executive Board will still be able to take a decision this year because none of us want this serious issue to overshadow [the Games],” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a recent letter to international sports leaders.

Meanwhile, Putin raised more eyebrows in Europe when he reportedly extended an invitation to disgraced ex-Fifa head Sepp Blatter to attend next year’s World Cup.

“I will go,” the 81-year-old, who is currently serving a six-year ban from world soccer as Swiss authorities investigate him for corruption, said Friday.

“I received an invitation from President Putin.”