Putin staked Russia’s prestige on sporting achievements

Vastavam web: Vladimir Putin has staked Russia’s prestige and his own reputation on sporting achievements but a possible ban from the Winter Olympics after claims of state-run doping threatens to wipe out any successes.Observers say it was the Kremlin’s desire for victory that fuelled the cheating that spectacularly backfired, with the country losing its top ranking in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics after being stripped of 11 medals for doping.”Sport is a huge media and political resource and Sochi was very important for the country’s image,” said political commentator Sergei Medvedev, adding Russia had resorted to mass-scale doping to guarantee victory in the Sochi games.
“It turns out they overplayed their hand and the largest scandal in the history of the Olympic movement ensued,” the professor at the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics told AFP.An explosive 2016 report by the World Anti-Doping Agency detailing the “state-dictated” system to hide drug test failures said it was put in place after a dismal showing at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.Moscow has consistently denied running a state- orchestrated doping programme, seeking to pin all the blame on sporting officials.”What is happening now is just one more piece of evidence for the Kremlin that Russia is at war with the outside world,” he said.
Putin said last month that doping allegations against Russian athletes had been invented by the United States to influence a March presidential election he is widely expected to contest and win.Tatyana Stanovaya, a Paris-based analyst for the Centre of Political Technologies in Moscow, said the Kremlin is sure that performance-based substances are used by athletes everywhere but the West singles out Russia to punish it for its increasingly assertive political stance.Ironically, the punishment of Russian athletes may play into the Kremlin’s hands ahead of the March vote and prompt ordinary Russians to rally behind Putin, just like many did after Western sanctions following Moscow’s takeover of Crimea in 2014.
The Kremlin has pumped more than 50 billion into hosting the Sochi games some say to the detriment of health care, science and education and is pulling out all the stops to hold the football World Cup in 2018.”A poisonous political atmosphere affects the decisions,” said Anton Orekh, an observer with the liberal Echo of Moscow radio.Yevgeny Slyusarenko, deputy editor of Russian sports website Championat.com, was more blunt.”There are doubts that Russian sport and Russian athletes have the right to a fair trial today,” he told AFP.