Russian skiers' doping ban is political, national federation says

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The head of Russia’s cross-country skiing federation on Friday criticized the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision to ban six Russians for life from the Games and described it as politically motivated.

Russian gold medalist Alexander Legkov celebrates as he receives his medal for the men's cross-country 50-kilometer mass start race during the closing ceremony for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia, February 23, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

The IOC banned six cross-country skiers this month as part of an investigation into allegations of widespread doping among Russians and sample-tampering by laboratory and security officials at the 2014 Sochi Games.

“It has not absolutely nothing to do with sport,” federation president Elena Valbe told reporters at the Russian Olympic Committee. “For me, it’s (political).”

The banned skiers include Alexander Legkov, won gold in the 50km and silver in the 4x10km relay event in Sochi, and Maxim Vylegzhanin, who won two silver medals in the 50km freestyle and the team sprint.

The ban effectively stripped them and their relay and sprint team mates of their Sochi medals.

The four other skiers - Evgeniy Belov, Alexei Petukhov, Evgenia Shapovalova and Yulia Ivanova -- did not win medals in Sochi.

Valbe blamed the skiers’ situation on Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s suspended anti-doping laboratory who revealed a scheme to cover up home competitors’ positive samples in Sochi.

“It’s because Grigory Rodchenkov made those testimonies,” Valbe said.

“He swore on the Bible that he was telling the truth and nothing but the truth. As our opponent said, we don’t have the right not to believe him.”

Valbe added that the federation would appeal against the IOC decisions at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

At a separate meeting of Russia’s suspended athletics federation on Friday, a local Olympic committee official denounced was he said was political pressure on Russian sport.

“All of Russian sport finds itself under pressure, under political pressure,” said Igor Kazikov, a deputy director at Russia’s Olympic Committee.

Kazikov added that most of the IOC cases against Russian athletes were “baseless and unsubstantiated”.

The comments came a day after Russia President Vladimir Putin suggested allegations of a state-sponsored doping program in Russia were an attempt to sow seeds of discontent ahead of the country’s presidential elections in March.

Putin also hinted that U.S influence in major sports organizations could be having a damaging effect on Russia’s ability to take part in international competitions.

Calls from athletes and anti-doping agencies for a blanket ban of Russians at the Pyeongchang Olympics have been growing louder amid the ongoing IOC investigations.

The IOC has said it would decide at its executive board meeting next month on the participation of Russian competitors at the Winter Games in February.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, editing by Ed Osmond