Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation President Banned for Two Years After Tokyo 2020 Protest

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Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation President Irina Viner has been banned by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) for two-years for her behaviour following the Olympic Games in Tokyo when Israel’s Linoy Ashram beat Dina Averina to the gold medal in the individual event and Bulgaria won the group event.

The proceedings launched by the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) were related to the alleged retaliatory withdrawal of Natalya Kuzmina’s candidacy in the elections to the FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics Technical Committee in 2021 shortly after the Olympics in the Japanese capital.

Public statements in the media after the defeat of the Russian rhythmic gymnastics team Tokyo 2020 were deemed as offensive and violating FIG rules. 

Viner is not allowed to participate or receive accreditation in international competitions, including work as a coach, head of delegation or other official role in an international competition in any event under the auspices of the FIG for a period of two years.

The punishment will not begin until one day after Russia’s current ban from international competition, imposed last year following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, is lifted, provided that these measures of the FIG are lifted within five years from the date of this decision. 

Russia withdrew Kuzmina’s candidacy in the elections after Viner criticised her for judging at the Olympics when Russia failed to win an Olympic gold medal in rhythmic gymnastics for the first time since Atlanta 1996. 

Irina Viner was critical of judging at the rhythmic gymnastics during Tokyo 2020 where Israel's Linoy Ashram beat Dina Averina to ensure Russia did not win an Olympic gold medal in the sport for the first time for quarter-of-a-century ©Getty Images
Irina Viner was critical of judging at the rhythmic gymnastics during Tokyo 2020 where Israel’s Linoy Ashram beat Dina Averina to ensure Russia did not win an Olympic gold medal in the sport for the first time for quarter-of-a-century ©Getty Images

Ashram won in the individual all-around, despite dropping the ribbon in her last discipline to the beat of Beyonce’s Crazy in Love.

Several countries filed protests during the competition. 

“Dina didn’t lose, she won,” Viner told Russia state-funded broadcaster RT channel after the competition.

“But unfortunately the judging was egregiously unjust.

“It was simply a disgrace to rhythmic gymnastics. 

“Enough, they got tired of Russia. 

“And the judges decided to support this Israeli woman.”

Russia's failure to win the Olympic gold medal in the group event at Tokyo 2020 led Irina Viner to claim that there was a conspiracy to end their domination of the sport ©Getty Images
Russia’s failure to win the Olympic gold medal in the group event at Tokyo 2020 led Irina Viner to claim that there was a conspiracy to end their domination of the sport ©Getty Images

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova supporter Viner by claiming the judges committed “fraud in front of the whole world.”

“Those who started the Russophobic war against the sport could not allow this victory,” she said

The abuse that Ashram, the first Israeli woman to win an Olympic gold medal, received on social media became so bad that even Averina appealed for people to leave her alone.

The day after Ashram’s at Tokyo 2020, Russia tumbled again into second place, losing the gold to Bulgaria. 

After that defeat, Viner told Russia’s state media that “everyone understood perfectly well that this was meant to happen, that Russia’s hegemony had to be stopped.”

She later added, “This outcome was planned in advance.”

Irina Viner has been one of the most successful rhythmic gymnastics coaches in history but her methods have been questioned by critics ©Ruscongress
Irina Viner has been one of the most successful rhythmic gymnastics coaches in history but her methods have been questioned by critics ©Ruscongress

Later, the FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics Technical Committee headed by Kuzmina did find any evidence of bias and violations in the work of referees at Tokyo 2020. 

In September 2021, Viner told the Russian media that the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation had removed Kuzmina from the elections and would prepare a “normal” candidate. 

The following month, it became known that the FIG again included Kuzmina in the list of candidates “in accordance with a temporary measure prescribed by the FIG Ethics Commission.” 

In November of the same year, an independent FIG Ethics Commission upheld the removal of Kuzmina’s candidacy from the election to the post of head of the FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics Technical Committee.

Uzbek-born Viner is considered one of the most successful rhythmic gymnastics coaches of all-time having trained the likes of Russian Olympic champions Evgeniya Kanaeva, Alina Kabaeva and Yulia Barsukova.

Her controversial training methods including sustained verbal abuse were portrayed in the 2017 documentary Over the Limit.

Irina Viner, right, is believed to be a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and introduced him to his mistress, Olympic rhythmic gymnastics gold medallist Alina Kabaeva ©The Kremlin
Irina Viner, right, is believed to be a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and introduced him to his mistress, Olympic rhythmic gymnastics gold medallist Alina Kabaeva ©The Kremlin

She is alleged to have introduced Russian President Vladimir Putin to Kabaeva, leading to her becoming his mistress and they have reportedly had children together. 

Viner was married to Uzbek-born Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov for 30 years before their divorce in May last year.

Viner and the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation had refused to cooperate with the investigation run by a GEF Disciplinary Commission Panel, which was led by Swiss lawyer Laurence Burger and included Greek Despina Mavromati and American Thomas Hayn.

A factor in the decision to ban Viner was that this was her second offence having already received a warning from the FIG Presidential Bureau in 2008 for public statements deemed to violate the world governing body’s ethics rules at the time.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko claimed Viner’s suspension was another conspiracy against Russia.

“The decision of the FIG to remove Irina Viner is another proof of the encroachment on the independence of sports in the face of Western political functionaries,” he told Russia’s official state news agency TASS.

“Already habitual idle talk aimed at a person with undeniable authority in international sports, the standard policy of exalting the weak by removing the cynicism of our Western colleagues knows no bounds, and over and over again we observe their naive decisions that destroy the large-scale world sports system that has been built for decades. development of their sport.”

Source : IG