Russia's reputation as a world sports power has taken a beating.

A doping scandal has left the Russian Olympic team decimated. Many Russian athletes are not being allowed to participate in the Rio Games, and those who are have been getting booed. And last weekend, the entire Russian Paralympic team learned that it would be banned from competing. 

Despite the still-brewing controversy, Russian athletes competing in Rio have so far won at least six medals, in judo, shooting, archery and fencing, including Beslan Mudranov’s gold medal in judo.  


REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach 

“The idea of a state-sponsored system just doesn’t ring true to Russians,” says Moscow-based reporter Charles Maynes. “Some of the allegations, even to most of the rest of us, sound so fantastic, it’s hard to wrap our minds around it ... and there’s a sense that it is just too fantastic to be true.”

Maynes says Russians are quick to point out that one of the prime sources for the doping allegations is the former head of the Russian anti-doping agency, now in the US cooperating with the international investigation. It appears to many Russians, says Maynes, that “it’s politics invading sports, and that somehow Russia’s being punished for its assertive foreign policy that includes the annexation of Crimea and support for the Assad government in Syria. ... Somehow this is seen as some kind of payback on that front.”

But now comes the latest decision to ban all of Russia’s Paralympic athletes from competing in Rio, with organizers blasting a "medals over morals mentality" in Moscow.

To many Russians, it’s a shocker.

“Keep in mind that under [Vladimir] Putin, Russia has seen both its Olympic and Paralympic squads achieve phenomenal results. In Paralympics alone, Russia not only topped the medal count in Sochi, they dominated. Russian Paralympians scored 65 more medals than the nearest competitor,“ says Maynes, “and at the time that was seen as a real achievement not only in sport but in terms of progress for disabled rights in Russia. It was the first time you’d seen this kind of attention given to the rights and dreams of Russian Paralympic athletes, and now of course that’s all being put under a microscope internationally.”

As it now stands, more than 250 Russian Paralympians are banned from participating in the Rio Games.

#Russian committee member reacts to total Russia ban from @Paralympics -

— BBC World Service (@bbcworldservice) 7 August 2016

Even the Russian athletes who have been allowed to compete in Rio are facing scrutiny and some degree of international scorn. There was a chorus of boos when Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova won her breaststroke semifinal on Sunday as other swimmers and fans registered their disapproval of Efimova’s alleged involvement in at least two previous doping incidents. That kind of confrontation makes it even more challenging for athletes to do their best.

“Essentially the Russians coming into this knew they had a lot to prove,” says Maynes. He says that Putin made the point in his sendoff ceremony for the Russian athletes, telling them basically “that the whole country is rooting for you, but the rest of the world is against you, so go prove yourselves.”

After being booed and jeered, Russian swimmer Efimova gave an interview to Russian state television in which she said it just made her madder, so she’s going to compete even harder. “So I think Russians have taken this whole thing with a chip on their shoulder and with the idea that they have something to prove,” says Maynes.

2016 Rio Olympics - Swimming - Semifinal - Women's 100m Breaststroke Semifinals - Olympic Aquatics Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 07/08/2016. Yulia Efimova (RUS) of Russia reacts. 

REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

Russia to be excluded from Rio Paralympics

— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) August 7, 2016

From PRI's The World ©2016 PRI