Sports News

U.S. skeleton athletes seek boycott of Sochi championships

(Reuters) - U.S. skeleton athletes are considering boycotting the world championships in Sochi next year in protest at the Russian doping scandal and how it has been handled, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

Citing concerns about doping control, personal safety and information security, the newspaper said the athletes had circulated memos calling for a boycott of the bobsled and skeleton championships in the southern Russian resort, which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Russia lavished some $50 billion on the Games and finished top of the medals table but a WADA-commissioned report this year described how, in a clandestine night-time operation, positive samples from athletes who had cheated were smuggled out of a lab through a hole drilled in the wall, and then replaced with clean samples.

The skeleton athletes’ correspondence, some of which the New York Times said it had obtained, indicated they had the support of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), which is bidding to hold the 2024 Summer Games in Los Angeles, the report said.

However, the USOC told Reuters it did not support “blanket boycotts”.

“The U.S. Olympic Committee supports athletes rights to choose when and where they compete. We support their right to choose not to compete,” USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in an e-mail. “The USOC does not, and will not, support blanket boycotts of any event.”

American skeleton racer Kyle Tress told the newspaper that it was time athletes made a stand.

“This has been passed down the line from the very highest level of sport, and now it’s fallen into the lap of athletes,” said Tress. “There’s tremendous support to skip this event, and I think it’s the right decision.”

In recent days, Tress and other members of his sport’s athlete advisory committee voted unanimously to recommend a boycott if the competition was not relocated outside of Russia, the Times said.

The event helps determine rankings ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics, to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

In July, an investigation by Richard McLaren commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) confirmed there was a cheating operation coordinated by the Russian government at the Sochi Olympics.

Results of the second McLaren Report due this week are expected to address which athletes benefited from the cheating.

“The fact that nothing has been done about the Sochi scandal and the fact that we’re still going to race there — it doesn’t make us feel secure, or that they’re taking the situation seriously,” said U.S. Olympic skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender.

This year, numerous Russian athletes have been stripped of their medals due to doping offences at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics but so far none from Sochi.

The athletes advocating a Sochi boycott are also hopeful that the Dec. 9 publication of the second investigative report will lead to further disciplinary action by the International Olympic Committee.

“There’s politics and money and sponsors involved, but this is an opportunity to come out in favor of clean sport,” Tress said.

Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Peter Rutherford