Putin: Rio medals "different quality" due to Russia ban

The Russian president said at a ceremony for the Olympic team that doping ban will "markedly lower the spectacle" in Rio de Janeiro.

Putin: Rio medals "different quality" due to Russia ban
MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV EFE

Vladimir Putin has said that the decision to ban many of Russia's star athletes from the Rio Olympic Games will devalue medals won by competitors ffrom other countries.

Over 100 Russians have so far been banned from the Games, including track and field stars Yelena Isinbayeva and Sergey Shubenkov, who were among those meeting Putin at the Kremlin. Two-time gold medallist pole vaulter Isinbayeva was seen breaking down in tears.

"It's obvious that the absence of Russian competitors -- leaders in many disciplines -- markedly lowers, and will lower the intensity of the fight and that means the spectacle at the upcoming events," Putin said in a speech. "The other sportsmen understand that the quality of their medals will be different."

Yelena Isinbayeva.

Putin blasted the IAAF decision to exclude the Russian track and field team and some other athletes as political and said it goes both "beyond the legal sphere and common sense".

A tearful Isinbayeva lashed out at the suspension by athletics' governing body, the IAAF, and thanked Putin for his support.

"They banned us without evidence, crudely and rudely," Isinbayeva said, before the team headed to a religious ceremony to be blessed by the influential head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. During the service, Patriarch Kirill said he would pray to help the athletes "put aside these difficult circumstances," Russian news agencies reported.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) sparked fierce criticism on Sunday when it resisted a blanket ban in favour of allowing individual sports federations to make the call on which Russians can go to Rio. International sports federations are now scrambling to vet Russian athletes as time ticks down to the start of the Games on August 5.

Russian competitors are set to jet out to Brazil early Thursday but it still remains unclear how many of the 387-strong squad named last week will eventually compete.

Rowing's international governing body FISA was the latest to get tough with Russia, announcing that 22 of 28 Russian competitors had been banned under strict criteria imposed by the IOC.

That took the number of Russian competitors banned since Sunday to 41, in addition to 67 members of the track and field team excluded by the IAAF.

The IAAF on Wednesday reaffirmed that only one Russian athlete -- US-based long jumper Darya Klishina -- was eligible to compete because she lives and trains outside the Russian system.

The latest doping scandal to rock Olympic and Russian sport was triggered this month by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), whose report detailed an elaborate doping system directed by the Moscow sports ministry and used in more than 30 sports over four years.

Controversially, among the Russians banned is Yuliya Stepanova, the 800m runner who lifted the lid on systematic doping and corruption in Russian athletics. Stepanova, who fled Russia and is reviled by many back home, is now making a last-gasp appeal against her IOC ban.

Her inclusion is backed by the IAAF and many anti-doping officials who have praised her whistleblowing efforts, but was nixed by an IOC ethics commission.

Four-time world breaststroke champion Yulia Efimova also plans to appeal her ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.