The state doping promoted by Russia at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics not only led to its athletes competing in Tokyo under the acronym “ROC”: it is also upsetting the nerves of some of its representatives, in this case tennis player Daniil Medvedev.
The consequences of the sanction on Russia, which has 335 athletes competing in Tokyo 2020 under a flag that resembles the Russian flag but is not Russian, were the subject of conversation in the first days of the Games. On Wednesday, Chilean journalist Sebastián Varela Nahmías, asked Medvedev a question that sparked a small scandal.
Here is the transcript of the tense exchange between the tennis player and the journalist:
- Journalist: Are the Russian olympic team, the athletes carrying a stigma of cheaters in these Games, and how do you feel about it?
- Medvedev: Can you say it again?
- Journalist: Are the athletes, the Russian athletes, carrying a stigma of cheaters in these Games after the scandal? And how do you feel about it.
- Medvedev: This is the first time in my life I’m not gonna answer a question, man.
- Journalist: I’m asking if there is a stigma, I’m not saying it.
- Medvedev: I’m talking now. It’s the first time in my life I’m not gonna answer a question and you should be embarrassed of yourself and I think you should be out of the Olympic Games either of the tennis tournaments and I don’t wanna see you again.
- Journalist: I’m not doing any judgement! I’m asking you.
- Medvedev (shouting): First time in my life, first time in my life!
The scene culminated in a surprising way, because a group of Russian journalists sharing the mixed zone with Varela Nahmias applauded Medvedev after his reaction.
In a statement to Around the Rings, the IOC said “We believe that both athletes and representatives of the media are entitled to their own freedom of speech, whilst respecting the Olympic values, and we have therefore no further comment on the matter”.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) confirmed to Around the Rings that “no action was taken” following the incident, despite Medvedev’s anger on a day of intense heat and humidity in the Japanese capital.
On Wednesday, world number one Novak Djokovic managed to twist the arm of the tournament organizers, accompanied by Medvedev and Germany’s Alexander Zverev.
“I played tennis for 20 years and I never faced these kinds of conditions in my entire life”, said Djokovic. The organizers gave in to the pressure and the day at the Ariake Tennis Park no longer starts at 11 a.m., but at three in the afternoon.
Clearly, Medvedev was having a complicated day early on. During the match in which he defeated Italy’s Fabio Fognini 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 to advance to the quarterfinals, the Russian had a tense exchange with Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire.
The 25-year-old took a medical timeout on court and called the trainer on two other occasions. During the second set, Ramos asked Medvedev if he was alright. The response was not exactly shy.
“I’m fine. I can finish the match but I can die. If I die will the ITF (International Tennis Federation) take responsibility?”.
Minutes later, Medvedev got into an argument with the Chilean journalist.
The incident was picked up on social networks and in some Russian media with a clear tone condemning the journalist and praising Medvedev. Varela Nahmías also received threats and mockery from users of social media accounts.
Beyond Medvedev’s anger, the question posed by the South American journalist was perfectly logical given the situation that Russian sport is going through.
In December, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) confirmed Russia’s suspension from the international sports calendar until the end of 2022. The World Anti-Doping Agency pointed out in 2019 that Russia was responsible for state doping and sanctioned it for four years. That sanction was later reduced to two and a half years by CAS.
Russian athletes not involved in the doping cases are participating in Tokyo by meeting strict requirements. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that any deviation from the guidelines could lead to new court cases.
“All public displays of the organization’s participant name should use the acronym ‘ROC,’ not the full name ‘Russian Olympic Committee,’” the IOC rules state.
This means that instead of the Russian flag, the ROC is represented by a flag featuring an Olympic flame in Russian colors above the five Olympic rings. If a ROC athlete or team wins gold, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” plays instead of the Russian national anthem. The ROC is currently in the top five on the medal board, not surprising, given Russia’s great sporting tradition.
“The Panel has clearly upheld our findings that the Russian authorities brazenly and illegally manipulated the Moscow Laboratory data in an effort to cover up an institutionalized doping scheme,” World Anti-Doping Agency President Witold Bańka said in a statement following the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s 2020 ruling on the case.
“In the face of continual resistance and denial from Russia, we clearly proved our case, in accordance with due process,” he added. Russia also can’t be represented as a country at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar or the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.