The decision to exclude the Russian team from the Paralympic Games was "cynical," said President Vladimir Putin while welcoming the athletes from Rio. After the ceremony, Olympic medalists were given keys to new BMWs.
Olympic gold medal winner in fencing, Yana Egorian, inspects her new BMW with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev
Russia is striving to improve its anti-doping effort "in the most transparent way," Putin said in Kremlin on Thursday. At the same time, Putin accused the anti-doping agencies of treating Russia particularly harshly due to alleged political pressure.
"Unfortunately, we witnessed how the humanist foundation of sport and Olympism was brazenly violated by politics," Putin said, adding that "greed and maybe cowardice" had trumped sports principles.
Due to accusations of state-sponsored doping, Russia was reduced to one athlete competing in track and field and barred from weightlifting altogether. The country narrowly avoided a blanket ban from Rio.
"You came through a tough test with honor," Putin told the athletes. "Ahead of the competition, the team was cut by almost a third, and was deprived of the chance to show what it can do in sports where Russia is traditionally considered one of the favorites."
Even with the suspension, Russia won 56 medals at the Games, including 19 gold ones. The result places the country fourth in a table based on the medal count.
On Thursday, the state announced that every medalist would receive a large cash prize, reaching 4 million rubles (some $62,000 or 55,000 euros) for those who placed first in their Olympic discipline. Also, all of the medalists received keys to new BMW SUVs.
Bronze medalists were rewarded by receiving BMW X3 models, silver medalists by receiving X5s, and the very best by receiving X6 cars, a reporter Dmitri Smirnov tweeted.
Previous medal winners were given Audi and Mercedes vehicles.
Training until the end
Putin also decried the more recent decision to ban Russian athletes from the Paralympic Games starting in Rio in September.
"The decision to disqualify our Paralympic team is outside the law, outside morality and outside humanity," he said.
"It is simply cynical to vent one's anger on those for whom sport has become the meaning of their life," he added.
Russia's Sports Minister Vladimir Mutko said that Moscow would contest the decision, made by Court of Arbitration for Sport, before the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland.
"All our Paralympic athletes would continue to train as long as there is a chance to compete," he said on Thursday. "Even after it, they would have our full support. We are thinking about setting up a separate competition for them."
Putin confirmed that the state was considering setting up an event to allow the banned Paralympians "to show all their skills."
At the competitions, "the reward for the champions and winners will be the same as it would have been at the end of the Paralympic Games," the Kremlin chief said.
dj/jil (SID, Interfax, AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)