Russia was barred from taking part in next month’s Rio Paralympics on Sunday, with organisers blasting a “medals over morals mentality” as they announced the blanket ban over state-backed doping that Olympics bosses avoided.
International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Philip Craven said Russia’s Paralympians were part of a broken system overseen by the Russian government and suspended the Russian Paralympic Committee ahead of the September 7-18 Games.
Russia immediately said it would appeal, and condemned the move as violating the human rights of its athletes.
“Tragically this situation is not about athletes cheating a system, but about a state-run system that is cheating the athletes,” Craven told reporters. “I believe the Russian government has catastrophically failed its para-athletes. Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me.”
The IPC decision follows the Russian doping scandal that has cost dozens of Russian sportspeople their place at the Rio Games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) stopped short of banning all Russian sportspeople from Rio and said on Sunday that 278 of the original 387-strong Russian team would be able to compete after being cleared by their individual sports federations.
IOC President Thomas Bach had described a blanket ban as a “nuclear option” in which innocent athletes would be “collateral damage”.
But the IPC had no such qualms and its hardline move drew praise from anti-doping authorities.
“The IPC showed strong leadership today in holding Russia’s state-organised doping program accountable. Their unanimous decision goes a long way towards inspiring us all,” said Travis Tygart, head of the US Anti-Doping Agency.
Russia said within minutes of the announcement that it would be appealing against the ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland, sport’s highest court.
“It is prejudice and politicisation ... There will be a legal appeal to CAS,” Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said.
Mutko said the decision had been made unilaterally by Craven because he was nearing the end of his career.
“This decision is absurd,” said Vladimir Lukin, president of the Russian Paralympic Committee.
Despite calls by athletes and sports officials for harsh sanctions on Russian dopers, multiple international federations have warned that this would punish clean sportsmen and women with no history of cheating.
The International Equestrian Federation and World Archery were quick to criticise the IPC’s ruling.
“It impairs clean athletes ... for political reasons rather than sporting, and goes against the Paralympic movement’s principle of inclusion,” World Archery said in a statement.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the ruling violated the human rights of Russia’s Paralympians.
“The decision to bar the entire Russian team from the Paralympics is astoundingly mean and inhuman,” she wrote on Facebook. “It is a betrayal of the very highest human rights standards which are the foundation of the modern world.”
Although not widely followed or celebrated in Russia, where rights campaigners say many disabled people are marginalised by regressive social attitudes and inadequate state support, Russian para-athletes are some of the best in the world.
Russia’s Paralympians topped the medal table at Sochi 2014 after taking second place behind China at London 2012, and their exclusion from the Rio Games will hit hard in a country which has long drawn pride and prestige from its history of sporting success.
The move also further tarnishes the legacy of the Sochi Olympics, an event held up by President Vladimir Putin to promote his image of Russia as a resurgent world power.
Addressing Russia’s Olympic team before they travelled to Rio last week, Putin said Russian sport had fallen foul of a politically motivated plot and the principal of collective responsibility flew in the face of common sense and legality.
Craven said he had “deep sympathy” for Russian competitors who will miss the Rio Games but that the decision was taken in the best interests of the Paralympic movement.
“We sincerely hope that the changes that need to happen, do happen,” he said. “They are part of a broken system.”