Mutko: Russians deserve to be treated as 'clean and honest'
MOSCOW -- Russian athletes whose doping bans were lifted deserve to be treated as "clean and honest" at the Pyeongchang Olympics, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko said Friday.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport on Thursday reinstated 28 Russians who had been disqualified from the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and lifted their life bans from the games. Other 11 Russians remained disqualified.
Mutko told The Associated Press the 28 athletes cleared by CAS "are clean and honest, so give them the chance to compete at the Olympics."
Russia wants to send 15 of the 28 athletes to Pyeongchang but the International Olympic Committee has yet to issue invitations. Some other athletes are already retired.
The 28 include gold medal-winning skeleton slider Alexander Tretiakov and cross-country ski gold medalist Alexander Legkov, as well as silver medalist speedskater Olga Fatkulina.
Mutko added that despite years of doping scandals and the requirement to compete under the Olympic flag as "Olympic Athletes from Russia," Russia's eligible athletes are in a positive mood.
"All of the athletes have gone (to Pyeongchang) fired up to compete," he said.
Mutko said the CAS verdicts were proof that Russia was unfairly victimized and that evidence from former Sochi doping lab director Grigory Rodchenkov - who said he tampered with samples on orders from the Sports Ministry then headed by Mutko - was worthless.
"Discrediting Russia was fashionable," Mutko said, but "as soon as they got to a cross-examination, some elementary basis in law, it all fell apart immediately."
Russia is considering whether it could yet overturn the bans for the remaining 11 athletes, Mutko said. However, the next battle is likely to be over the IOC's decision to exclude certain top Russians from an invite list it says should contain only those who are most likely to be clean.
With only a week to go until the Pyeongchang Olympics, time is fast running out.
Mutko hinted the invitation process, headed by former French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron, was an attempt to hurt Russia's medal chances.
"It seems like someone's picked up a pencil and gone through all the sports and removed or, let's say, reduced the Russian national team's competitiveness at the Olympics," he said. "We're going to support our athletes to the end in their attempts to get an invitation to the Olympics."
WADA vice president Linda Hofstad Helleland said Friday "the situation, (in) which we now find ourselves, is very chaotic."
"Clean athletes and sport fans around the world have lost confidence in the system," Helleland wrote in an email to the AP. "It's time to stand up and clearly say: This has to stop. This situation can't be accepted any longer."
Mutko himself is barred from the Olympics for life by the IOC, which ruled last month his Sports Ministry failed to ensure the anti-doping program in Sochi worked as it should. He says that wasn't his responsibility and says he's filed an appeal, though it won't be heard until after the Pyeongchang Games.
Some Russian sports fans have lashed out at athletes who choose to compete in Pyeongchang in IOC-imposed neutral uniforms, sometimes flooding social media pages with abusive comments and accusing them of being traitors. Mutko said he disagreed with that sentiment but refused to condemn it.
"I don't condemn anything. That opinion exists and a large percentage of our citizens believe exactly that," he said. "We had to give the athletes a choice, not put them under pressure. Every athlete's story is a short career and they had to make that decision."
It's been over three years since accusations of widespread doping in Russian track and field led to the first World Anti-Doping Agency investigation. That then led to Rodchenkov's decision to testify and further probes into the Sochi Olympics.
Mutko suggested doping allegations were all an attempt to show Russia as a Soviet-style autocracy.
"These accusations of victory at any price ... to strengthen (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, it's all a made-up fairy tale, some kind of view of Russia from the past. We have long since stopped politicizing the results of the Olympics," he said.
Vast government spending on athletes' pay, sport facilities and equipment in recent decades dwarfed the effect any drugs would have had, he suggested.
"If you've invested tens of billions of dollars in all that, then why do you need that little medal linked to doping?"