More than 100 athletes took part in the meeting, both those who will compete in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and those who were banned from taking part, and more than 40 coaches, doctors, and other specialists accompanying the team.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon friends.
It is now an excellent and well-established tradition to meet with the Russian team before they leave to take part in the Olympics. On the eve of such an important sports event, it is indeed essential to have the country’s moral support and solidarity, to receive our good words and feelings and know that the whole country is behind you and with you all the way.
The farewell ceremony of the national Olympic team is different this year. You know what I am talking about. I will say a few words on this now.
All of you here trained long and hard over the last four years to get ready for this big event, and you all deserved the right to defend Russia’s sporting honour. Sadly, not all of you will have the chance to make your dreams come true in Rio.
We see that short-sighted politicians have started meddling in sport too, though sport was supposed to bring peoples together and smooth over the differences between countries. This current situation has gone beyond the legal pale now and has even gone beyond the bounds of common sense.
This campaign that targets our country’s athletes includes the use of notorious double standards and the principle of collective responsibility, or, as was said, “reversal of the presumption of innocence”, which is not compatible with sport and not compatible with justice and basic legal norms in general. We get the impression that those who speak this way do not even understand what they are saying.
Not only have many of our athletes suffered from these allegations made against them for which – I want to stress – there is not the slightest concrete evidence, but this has dealt a blow to global sport in general and to the Olympic Games.
Everyone realises, after all, that the absence of Russian athletes, who are leaders in many sports disciplines, will reduce significantly the level of competition and thus take some of the thrill and interest out of the upcoming Games. I want to assure you that we here in Russia will look at our athletes who are leaders in their disciplines as Olympic champions with all the administrative and material consequences this entails.
I am sure that your colleagues from other leading sports powers around the world understand, even if they do not say so aloud, that the medals’ quality and level will be different.
It is one thing to win in competition with your equals, with strong rivals, after all, and quite another thing to compete against athletes clearly not of your level. Such a victory does not have the same taste and is perhaps even quite tasteless.
As I said, this affair threatens to discredit the very principles of equality, fairness, mutual respect and the rights of ‘clean’ athletes. Essentially, this is an attempt to revise the ideas on which Pierre de Coubertin built the modern Olympic Games.
The International Olympic Committee, as you know, despite the tremendous pressure it was under and the very negative media environment that was created as if on command, did not bring division into the Olympic movement and left it up to the international federations in the different sports to decide whether or not to allow athletes to participate. True, with only days remaining before the Games begin, we still do not know for sure how many of our athletes will go to Rio, and this uncertainty also has an impact on their training and preparedness, of course.
We cannot agree with the blanket disqualification of our track and field athletes who have, I want to stress, an absolutely clean doping record. We will not and cannot accept this kind of open discrimination. This goes completely against the Olympic movement’s principles. But we will fight for justice exclusively through legal means and will act in strict accordance with the Olympic Charter. I am sure the Russian Olympic Committee will continue to defend our athletes’ interests.
Russia will prove through its acts its commitment to the principles of clean and fair competition and our readiness for genuine partnership with the international sports community to combat doping. We will not only ensure that all involved in doping scandals are held accountable, no matter what their rank and services, but, most importantly, will establish an effective system to prevent doping in sport in accordance with the national plan for preventing doping, which we are already working on now.
You already know that the independent commission set up just recently under the direction of honorary member of the IOC Vitaly Smirnov will work in closest cooperation with the relevant international organisations and will organise its work in the most transparent and unbiased fashion. At the same time, we hope that all members of the global Olympic family will follow the same principle.
Let’s be frank: all countries encounter problems with doping, but we sometimes have the impression that demands and oversight differ for different countries’ athletes. It is as if someone wants to divide sportspeople into ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ and obtain competitive advantages that do not conform with the principle of fair competition.
I believe that to fight doping truly effectively, and not selectively, we need to develop common international doping control standards. The athletes themselves and the fans should have open access to test results and to information on who underwent which tests, when and where, how the tests were carried out, the results obtained and the conclusions drawn. This information should be completely open, transparent and under the oversight of the international sports community.
The current situation dictates the need for such a step. Only this way can we achieve equal competition conditions for all. Without this, competition simply makes no sense. We must avoid discrimination and exclude all possibility of abuse, bias and political manipulation. These are the tasks before the international sports community today. We must also work in solidarity with our colleagues. I am sure that this is in the interests of not only Russia but of sport throughout the world.
Friends, you know that despite the attempts to cast a shadow on Russia’s athletes and deprive them of the right to take part in the Olympics, millions of fans from many different countries – I stress this – and from Russia itself, of course, will be supporting our team with all sincerity.
Your greatest support has and will come from Russia, of course, and I am sure that you feel this. I am speaking of our ‘clean’ athletes who have been unfairly deprived of the right to take part in competition, and of those who will take part in this sports event.
Many athletes and coaches, sportspeople in track and field and other disciplines, are bitterly disappointed right now, and we understand this very well. But I want you all to know that we are without a doubt proud of you and will do all we can to stand up for your good name, sporting honour and dignity. Justice will triumph.
Those who go to Rio will not have an easy time, of course, but the Russian character has a marvellous and important trait: difficulties only make us stronger, unite us, waken colossal strength of spirit in us and open the road to the most arduous summits.
I sincerely hope that you will have the chance to demonstrate your full talent and skill and show the whole world that we can win openly and fairly. All of vast Russia will be with you. I wish you success.
Sergei Tetyukhin, volleyball player, Olympic champion: Mr President, friends,
The Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are my sixth Olympics. I know what a great responsibility it is to compete in this competition, and I know how important it is for us to have a united and friendly team in which every athlete and every person is ready to lend a shoulder and help in difficult moments.
Of course, much responsibility at the Olympics rests on experienced athletes, athletes with character, people who can set the lead in the toughest moments.
You all know that our Olympic team is in a difficult situation at the moment, and in the face of all that is happening, we must unite and become much stronger. I promise that we will fight at all venues and arenas for our country, flag, honour and good name.
I want to thank all who have been directly involved in our preparation, our families and friends, our supporters and all people involved in sport. Thank you very much. I want to wish everyone success in Rio.
Yelena Isinbayeva, two-time Olympic pole-vaulting champion: Mr President, sportspeople,
Thank you very much for this great support you have given us. It really is very important because… (Applause)… because it is genuinely very important.
Track and field is in the most difficult situation right now. We have been banned from the competition without proof, in insolent and primitive fashion, and without any chance to defend ourselves and fight for our right to take part in the Olympics. This is upsetting, of course, and unpleasant, all the more so that this was to have been the first Olympics for some of us, and for others the last in their professional career.
Of course, like everyone here, we put in four years of hard work for this, spared no effort, strove for results, and had nearly reached the final straight when we had our dream stolen from us. They took from us the goal that had kept us going and motivated us to keep pushing our own limits every day.
But never mind, we are strong and we are not alone. Others here with us today will not go to the Olympics because we are paying for the mistakes of less responsible athletes who broke the rules, and today we are answering collectively for this.
We have encountered such disregard for the law today, such unfairness and arbitrariness from some people in international sport, who figured they could do as they please and change the rules only a month before this important event, and we do not know what will happen next and what reception we will have at the Olympics.
I want to say that we are all one team, we are all one great nation, and this situation will only make us more united. You must show the best of your abilities, for yourselves, and for all of us. You can do it; we believe in you.
Don’t let anyone unsettle you or put pressure on you. Walk with your head held high to make it clear to all those supposedly clean foreign athletes that they have attacked the wrong people.
We wish you sincere success, we believe in you, and we will be sitting before our TV screens, cheering for you. I wish you all good luck, belief in yourselves, and hope that you perform so well that the whole world will sit up and take notice and the Russian national anthem will ring out constantly in Rio’s stadiums. May God be with you! (Applause)
Mr President, we ask you and request directly that you protect us in the face of this disregard for the law. We truly need your support and advice today because, sadly, the athletes are defenceless right now.
We want to and can, but no one is hearing our voice, and we cannot take any real measures ourselves. We love and believe in you very much and thank you for your support. We must punish all who have had a part in this.
Vladimir Putin: Lena [Isinbayeva] spoke about unfairness just now, and this is indeed the case. This is an attempt to apply to international sport the rules that, unfortunately, often dominate in international politics. Lena asked what is to be done in this situation, but she then answered her own question when she said that we will be even stronger. We believe in you and we wish you luck!