By Nataliya Vasilyeva and Rob Harris
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin hit out at “discrimination” against the country’s banned track and field athletes at a Kremlin send-off ceremony Wednesday for its depleted Olympic team.
Fencers, triathletes and table tennis players became the latest team of Russians to be cleared to compete in the Olympics by the governing bodies of their sports ahead of the Moscow ceremony, but the IAAF rejected a bid by the bulk of the track and field team to be reinstated.
More than 100 Russians from the 387-strong Olympic team have been banned so far from going to Rio de Janeiro.
“We can’t accept indiscriminate disqualification of our athletes with an absolutely clean doping history,” Putin said. “We cannot and will not accept what in fact is pure discrimination.”
Putin said the athletes banned from the Olympics were victims of a campaign to present Russian sports in a bad light. He spoke with two-time Olympic pole-vaulting champion Yelena Isinbayeva, the most high-profile of the 67 track and field athletes banned from the games, standing beside him.
Fighting back tears, Isinbayeva told Rio-bound Russian athletes: “Show them what you’re able to do — for yourself and for us too.”
As the athletes walked across Red Square to meet Putin, some posed for selfies with Vitaly Mutko, whose sports ministry was accused by the World Anti-Doping Agency of orchestrating the doping cover-up. The sports minister has been blocked by the International Olympic Committee from attending the games next month but he remains in Putin’s government.
The IAAF is the only organization to impose a near-blanket ban on Russians, only deeming one — long jumper Darya Klishina — eligible for Rio.
“The situation went beyond the legal field as well as common sense,” Putin told the audience, which included many of the banned athletes. “It’s a well-planned campaign which targeted our athletes, which included double-standards and the concept of collective punishment which has nothing to do with justice or even basic legal norms.
“Not only have our athletes who never faced any specific accusations been hurt — this is a blow to the entire global sports and the Olympic Games. Clearly, the absence of Russian athletes who were leaders in some of the sports will affect the competition.”
There was positive news, however, from Putin’s ally, Alisher Usmanov, the Russian billionaire who is president of the International Fencing Federation.
The governing body said it would allow the 16 Russian fencers who have qualified for the Rio Games to compete and it approved four reserves. The decision came after the FIE said it had re-examined 197 tests taken from Russian fencers in 35 countries over the last two years which all came back negative.
The FIE said the fencers heading to Rio were not implicated in the latest report by WADA investigator Richard McLaren, who found that four positive doping tests in Russian fencing disappeared in recent years.
Four positive results in Russian triathlon were also covered up, according to McLaren. The International Triathlon Union said the three men and three women who qualified for Rio are not mentioned in the McLaren report and have not served past doping suspensions.
“They have all been tested outside of Russia,” the ITU said in a statement. “Therefore, ITU will recommend to the IOC that these six athletes be permitted to compete in Rio next month.”
The Table Tennis Federation also announced that the three Russians who qualified for Rio should be allowed to compete because they were not implicated in the McLaren report, which classified one doping case in their sport as a “disappearing positive.”
Russian entries to the Olympics must still be examined and upheld by an expert from the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The International Gymnastics Federation said it has established a “pool of eligible Russian athletes” and is awaiting IOC approval.
Individual sports federations were given the task of deciding which athletes should be cleared to compete in Rio by the International Olympic Committee on Sunday. In his native Germany, IOC President Thomas Bach is facing increasing criticism for failing to impose a complete ban on Russia’s team.
Germany’s national anti-doping agency chief Andrea Gotzmann said the decision does not follow the IOC’s declared “zero tolerance” policy, saying Bach has missed “a huge chance.”
Olympic discuss champion Robert Harting said he was “ashamed of Thomas Bach.”
Harris reported from London. AP Sports Writer Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt, Germany contributed to this report.