Russian wrestling great comments on ‘treason’ calls


Three-time Olympic champion Aleksandr Karelin does not support harsh sanctions for Russian athletes if they change citizenship

Russian Greco-Roman wrestling legend Aleksandr Karelin has suggested athletes from his homeland who opt to change nationality to dodge widespread sporing bans should not be accused of treason, despite demands by some politicians for tough punishments.

Karelin, 55, won three consecutive Olympic gold medals between 1998 and 2006 and is widely recognized as his sport’s greatest ever competitor – as well as among the most dominant athletes ever across any sport.

The wrestling icon turned to politics after his retirement, serving in the Russian State Duma before joining the Federation Council as a senator in 2020.

As Russian athletes including wrestlers face sweeping sporting bans because of the conflict in Ukraine, Karelin weighed in on suggestions by fellow politicians such as Duma Deputy Roman Teryushkov – who has claimed that athletes who try to swerve sanctions by switching allegiances should be considered traitors.

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“I didn’t support the tough innovation of my colleague, the former Minister of Sports of the Moscow Region, and now a State Duma deputy, Roman Teryushkov, who said that this should be equated with treason,” said Karelin, who was also a nine-time world champion during his illustrious career.

“People get confused, weakness appears. Despite the ability to survive heavy loads and extreme stress, [athletes] can sometimes find themselves in a vulnerable, weak, inexplicable state. 

“This is undoubtedly a human factor… You have to understand that you are part of a larger whole, the state invested in you, the expectations of mentors and fans were invested in you,” he added, urging athletes against considering the move.

After Teryushkov made his initial proposal back in July for measures against Russian athletes changing nationality, the Kremlin suggested it would not be on board with such thinking.

Elsewhere, the likes of Olympic ice dance champion Tatiana Navka have said sportsmen and women taking the step should not be judged too harshly.

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Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin has said that despite fears from some quarters of an exodus of talent, in reality that was unlikely to materialize.

In a wide-ranging interview with TASS, the Siberian-born Karelin suggested that outside forces had been working against Russian sport for many years.

“All this was slowly worked out [against] us – athletics, weightlifting, this has been going on for decades. Something was constantly happening,” said Karelin.

“Think back to 2014, our great Winter Olympics in the wonderful resort of Sochi, and then what happened in southeastern Ukraine,” 

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