Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin decided to hold his own version of the Olympics in Moscow after the country was caught cheating at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter games. A state-run doping scandal led to nearly all Russian Track and Field athletes being banned from the 2016 Rio games. Putin responded by holding his own “alternative games” called “Stars 2016.” Over 150 athletes participatd in the games, 67 of them being athletes that were banned from the Olympics. Putin claims the allegations are untrue and that Russia is simply being discriminated against. Several of the athletes echo his statement and claim that “Stars 2016” isn’t a form of protest against the 2016 Olympic games.
The games took place at the Znamensky Brothers Stadium in front of meager crowds made up mostly of friends and relatives of the athletes. Athletes claimed that the games weren’t meant as a sign of defiance against the Olympic ruling but many spectators claimed there was a “sense of defiance in the air.” Putin also took time to address the athletes during the games and stress to them that any medals won is Rio would be less valuable due to the absence of Russian athletes and that excluding them will rob spectators of a sense of completeness.
Several athletes also made comments that showed a distinct tone of contempt. Several athletes also wore number bibs sporting statements like “I run clean,” “I throw clean,” and so forth depending on their event. Pavel Ivashko, a 400m runner at Stars 2016 told reporters after a race:
“It should show that no matter how much pressure they put on us we are ready to fight and run further. They didn’t break us. They disqualified us in the rudest way but we continue to compete.”
A recent poll shows that 90% of Russian citizens approve the way Putin is handling the ban. Russian citizens and athletes alike seem to be convinced that, despite mountains of evidence proving otherwise, the Russians were unfairly targeted in the doping scandal.
Dmitry Shlyakhtin, who is the head of the Russian athletics federation and decorated two-time Olympic gold medal winner pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva told the crowd:
“No competition in the world can replace the Olympics, but nonetheless today we are finding a replacement for what they didn’t give us yesterday,” Shlyakhtin said before the sound system briefly broke down. “Today is a challenge to those who didn’t let us in to what we earned. Today we can show what we were striving for these past four years.”