Boos, taunts and jeers: Russia under siege at Rio Olympics

Russia's Yulia Efimova cries after placing second in the women's 100m breaststroke fFinal.
Russia's Yulia Efimova cries after placing second in the women's 100m breaststroke fFinal.PHOTO: AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO (REUTERS) - Weakened and bruised by sport's biggest doping scandal in decades, Russia is under siege at the Rio Games.

The Russian team, tarnished and reduced in number following allegations of state-backed cheating, is keeping tight-lipped after being jeered by hostile crowds at multiple venues.

But Russian fans are incensed and speaking out.

"They don't love us here. They think we do all these bad things, that we are cunning and wicked," said Tatyana Omelchenko, who travelled almost 15,000km from the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk in Siberia to watch fencing in Rio.

"There is definitely an anti-Russian atmosphere. We don't think it, we feel it," she added. "They're scared of us because we are strong."

Following a doping scandal which threatened to split the Olympic movement and has cost over 100 Russian athletes their place at the Games, Omelchenko and other Russians say their reception in Rio jars sharply with the Olympic Charter's principles of inclusion and equality.

Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, who won her appeal against a doping ban only last Friday, has been booed every time she stepped on to the pool deck and broke down in tears after taking home the 100m breaststroke silver medal on Monday.

Other Russian competitors have been jeered at events including fencing and beach volleyball, especially when facing off against their Brazilian hosts, and some Russian visitors have been mocked by rival fans.

Teams including the United States and China have also felt the heat of what Brazilians call zoeira, or teasing, more often seen in the country's notoriously raucous football stadiums than at the Olympic Games.

But Russians feel they are being specifically targeted in light of the cheating allegations.

Speaking at a tense news conference after her race, alongside gold medallist Lily King of the United States who publicly criticised her opponent's doping record the previous day, Efimova said it was "hurtful" that athletes were involving themselves in politics.

"Usually at the Olympic Games all wars are stopping," she told reporters in a trembling voice while struggling to keep her composure.

"But now they try to find a way how they can beat Russia."


Russia's doping scandal, which centres on evidence the Russian government and FSB security service colluded to cover up systematic cheating across the majority of Olympic sports, has dominated the build-up to the Rio Games.

Only 278 of 387 Russian athletes originally named for the Olympics have been permitted to compete and Russia was excluded from next month's Paralympic Games on Sunday over what organisers called a "medals over morals mentality" overseen at a state level.

Most Russian athletes in Rio have played coy, dismissing suggestions of a negative atmosphere or refusing to comment, saying they need to focus on the competition at hand.

"We don't react... We're not guilty of anything," said swimmer Viktoria Andreeva.

Officials have been more candid, however, acknowledging the mood but saying their athletes are clean and have nothing to prove.

"The team have all been tested, and so we deserve respect, our athletes have nothing to be ashamed of," said Russian Swimming Federation spokeswoman Alexandra Nekrasova. "We don't deserve that," she said of Efimova's treatment at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced the allegations against Russian sport as a politically motivated plot and said the principle of collective responsibility lacks common sense and legality.

Following its decision to bar Russia from its own Games, multiple sports federations criticised the International Paralympic Committee for punishing innocent athletes "for political reasons rather than sporting".

Novosibirsk resident Anastasia Tsepaikina, wearing a bright blue Team Russia tracksuit and swaddled in the Russian flag, said she had been taunted by French fans in the Olympic Park.

"There is an atmosphere definitely, a real hostility," she said. "I'm sure it's because of this doping stuff but that is politicised. Sport should be separate."