Russia to back ‘neutral’ athletes at Winter Olympics

Russia’s ice hockey team will be at the Games. (Reuters)
Updated 12 December 2017
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Russia to back ‘neutral’ athletes at Winter Olympics

MOSCOW: Russia’s Olympic Committee has agreed to support its athletes who choose to compete in next year’s Winter Games in South Korea as neutrals following a ban on the Russian national team.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last week banned Russia from the Games, due to take place in Pyeongchang in February, for what it called “unprecedented systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system.
But it left the door open for Russian athletes with a clean history of non-doping to be invited to compete as neutrals under an Olympic flag, not a Russian one.
President Vladimir Putin said last week Russia would not prevent its athletes from competing, dismissing calls by some for a boycott, and an ROC official said on Monday most Russian athletes still wanted to attend.
The Russian committee (ROC) agreed its position at a meeting yesterday attended by sporting figures including the national men’s hockey team, figure skaters, speed skaters and the presidents of winter sports federations.
ROC President Alexander Zhukov said: “All the participants were of the same opinion — our sportsmen need to go to Korea, need to compete, achieve victory for the glory of Russia, for the glory of our motherland.”
Zhukov said Russia would do its best to support Russian athletes competing under a neutral flag and hold serious talks with the IOC in the near future to discuss the problems and practicalities of the arrangement.
He did not say what form this support would take.
“Russian sportsmen have stated their readiness to take part in the Olympic Games, despite the difficult conditions and decision of the IOC, which is undoubtedly unfair in many ways,” he said.
Zhukov added that Russia would also support the athletes who had decided not to compete in Pyeongchang.
Senior Russian Olympic official Vitaly Smirnov, who heads Russia’s state-backed anti-doping commission, said the country had made the “right decision” not to boycott.
“A boycott is not a solution,” Smirnov said. “That (would mean) new sanctions and problems for our athletes.”
In the weeks leading up to the IOC ban, more than 20 Russian athletes who competed at the 2014 Sochi Games were banned for life from the Olympics for allegedly breaching anti-doping rules.
Russian authorities have vehemently denied any state support for doping and have pledged to co-operate with international sports bodies to counter the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Russia’s athletics federation, Paralympic committee and anti-doping agency RUSADA remain suspended over doping scandals.
Sitting in the front row of the Russian Olympic Committee auditorium ahead of the meeting, hockey star Ilya Kovalchuk said he would not mind competing at the Games as an “Olympic Athlete from Russia,” the term the IOC uses to designate the Russians who will go to Pyeongchang.
“We are athletes from Russia, after all,” Kovalchuk told reporters. “They took the flag away but they can’t take away our honor and our conscience.”
Kovalchuk, one of the first to call for athletes to compete in Pyeongchang after the IOC ban, thanked authorities for taking the opinions of athletes into consideration.
“Thank you for having heard us, for having believed us,” Kovalchuk said. “I think that every athlete who takes part in the Olympic Games in Pyeonchang will do everything possible.”
Olympic fencer Sofya Velikaya, chair of the ROC’s athletes commission, called on the Russian public to respect athletes’ decisions to go to Pyeongchang amid concerns that some could be branded traitors for agreeing to compete without the country’s flag.
“The athletes will show their love for their motherland and their patriotism through their results, through their accomplishments and medals,” Velikaya said.


Ahmed Barman out to toast Al-Ain success in FIFA Club World Cup

Updated 11 December 2018
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Ahmed Barman out to toast Al-Ain success in FIFA Club World Cup

  • Tournament gets under way on Wednesday when Al-Ain take on Team Wellington at home.
  • UAE midfielder sure his side can cause a few shocks.

LONDON: While he is only too aware of the quality opposition they have to face, Al-Ain midfielder Ahmed Barman is backing “The Boss” to scare a few teams in the FIFA Club World Cup.
The tournament gets under way when the UAE outfit face Team Wellington on their home ground in the opener today. Last year saw fellow Arabian Gulf League side Al-Jazira reach the semifinal where they gave Real Madrid a huge fright before narrowly losing 2-1. And inspired by that march to the last four, Barman is looking for Al-Ain to go one better and become the first Emirati side to make the final.
“The FIFA Club World Cup is a global competition coveted by every club,” Barman said. “Al-Ahli, Al-Jazira and Al-Wahda participated in this tournament before and did their part, putting the UAE on the world map. We at Al-Ain hope to reach the semi-final, as Al-Jazira did, or do even better.”
Before any tournament it is only natural to dream of glory and lifting the trophy in front of adoring fans. But the midfielder is not getting too cocky, revealing that despite having home advantage Al-Ain are taking absolutely nothing for granted, starting with Wednesday’s clash against the Kiwis.
“There’s no doubt that we’re aiming to reach the final and face a giant like Real Madrid, but first we have to focus on our opening match against Team Wellington,” the 24-year-old said.
“We need to win to progress from this round and play the subsequent games until we reach the final against Real Madrid and show a standard of play the UAE can be proud of.”
Barman is not anticipating an easy opener.
“Team Wellington are a very good team with considerable ability. They won their local league and the OFC Champions League, which proves they’re powerful.
“So, all our focus is on this opening match. We’re annualizing our opponents to understand their capabilities as we prepare to perform well on the pitch and get positive result.”
The UAE champions did not have the best preparation for their stab at Club World Cup glory, losing 5-2 to Al-Wasl in the UAE President’s Cup at the weekend.
That result, while clearly not ideal, has not bothered the side’s coach.
“We cannot win every game, what is gone is gone, it’s full concentration on the match ahead,” Zoran Mamic said.
“There are no rules that Al-Ain cannot lose games, that’s why I don’t make any drama.”
But while Barman was keen to invoke the memory of Al-Jazira’s march to the last four, his boss was less so, telling his team to focus on the match at hand before getting ahead of themselves.
“We are not here to talk about last year, just as we are not here to talk about the future,” the Croatian said. “We are here to represent the club in the best possible way. We focus on the match at hand and everything will take care of itself.”
Of today’s opponents he added: “We have watched all their games, we know their strengths and where they are not so strong. They are particularly good offensively, they play with fast wingers and a striker who is a good scorer, they play a system that is unusual to us because no teams in the Emirates play with three in the last line. If we do our job we will (have) a good match.”