Russia's ice hockey forward Ilya Kovalchuk has told TASS news agency that he believes Russian athletes should go to the Olympics.
Moscow (AFP) - The Kremlin on Wednesday cautioned against an “emotional” response after Russia was banned from the Winter Olympic Games, as politicians and athletes reacted with anger and disappointment.
Russia was banned Tuesday from the 2018 Winter Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over its state-orchestrated doping programme – something it has always denied – but clean Russian athletes will be allowed to compete under an Olympic flag.
“The situation is serious, it calls for deep analysis and it would be wrong to give in to emotion here,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Putin has yet to personally comment on a possible boycott but was set to make a speech in Moscow later Wednesday in which he was expected to give his view on the IOC’s decision.
Officials are expected to discuss the country’s response to the ban next Tuesday.
The head of Russia’s Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, has told the IOC that punishing clean athletes was “unjust and immoral”.
Russian media expressed regret at the decision while welcoming the possibility of some athletes participating, albeit under tight restrictions.
The IOC “chose one of the harshest options it was considering but still not the harshest of all”, which would have been a total ban, wrote Kommersant business daily.
“It’s very hard to take accusations and punishments. But the fate of our athletes and preserving our place in the Olympic family is more important,” wrote the Sport Express daily.
It slammed the IOC decision as “very harsh and in some ways even humiliating for Russia,” citing the life bans on attending the games for ex-sports minister Vitaly Mutko, now first deputy prime minister.
Nevertheless the IOC President Thomas Bach “left the door open for Russia” by allowing athletes to participate in some form, even with the word “Russia” on their uniforms, the newspaper wrote.
“Can’t get by without Russia,” the pro-Kremlin Izvestia daily headlined its front page, stressing that “Russian Olympic athletes will defend the honour of the Motherland under any banner.”
Some top sports figures agreed, with ice hockey forward Ilya Kovalchuk telling TASS state news agency: “We must go to the Olympics. Refusing is surrender.”
Pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva told TASS: “Addressing our athletes, I want to say that they should absolutely not despair and should continue training for the games.”
- ‘This is sport, damn it!’ -
Some politicians vented rage, however.
“This is an absolute outrage,” said the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, quoted by state RIA Novosti news agency. “This is sport, damn it!” he added.
Nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, condemned the decision as “sporting racism, political racism,” quoted by RIA Novosti.
Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, writing on his Telegram social networking page, warned that “not one athlete living in Chechnya will participate under a neutral flag.”
Olympic gold-medallist gymnast Svetlana Khorkina, now a ruling party MP, told Sport Express: “What have we come to? Crushing our great country Russia? No, they won’t manage it. Russia has an army, nuclear weapons and great people.”
Pro-Kremlin media focused on discrediting Grigory Rodchenkov, the whistleblower who gave evidence of a state-controlled doping programme in which he played a central role.
Rodchenkov has been living in hiding in the United States since lifting the lid on the intricate workings of a state-supported doping scheme at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“Grigory Rodchenkov is the perfect traitor,” wrote tabloid daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.
It said the IOC’s actions proved that “you can destroy a whole Olympic country on the basis of indirect evidence and a single witness who was under a criminal investigation and has been treated in a psychiatric hospital”.