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Putin Criticizes Olympic Organizers, Alleged Bias Against Russian Athletes - 2002-02-22

Russian President Vladimir Putin has added his voice to the growing controversy surrounding the Winter Olympic Games, saying he agrees that the judging has been biased against Russians, but that the Russian athletes are not likely to withdraw from the competition as Russian officials had threatened.

Speaking to journalists in the Kremlin Friday, Mr. Putin said the judges have shown bias against the Russian team.

Mr. Putin said the Russian team had been subjected to biased and unfair judging. He had especially blunt words for the new International Olympic Committee under the leadership of its new president Jacques Rogge.

Mr. Putin said they made a mess of their first attempt at running the Games. He also criticized organizers for what he referred to as the "exceptional commercialization" of the Games.

Russian Olympic officials also came in for criticism. Mr. Putin said they had been too passive in the face of events in Utah. Russia has threatened to withdraw from the competition unless the IOC takes action on its complaints.

Mr. Putin's comments, however, suggested that is not likely. While charging that North American athletes were getting a "clear advantage," he said, "let's see how the Olympic games end." He said he hopes the IOC will take the appropriate action.

President Putin was not alone in his assessment of how the Russian team has been treated. Alexei Volin, deputy chief of staff of the Russian Cabinet, told television viewers that Russian athletes were practically being mocked at the games. He said the treatment of Russia's athletes is an attempt to discredit Russian sports and to oust Russian athletes from the sports arena.

Russia's cross-country ski team was unable to compete after team member Larissa Lazutina was disqualified because a test found high levels of hemoglobin in her blood. Russian officials denied she had taken performance-enhancing drugs.

There has also been widespread objection to the IOC's decision to award a second gold medal to a Canadian figure skating pair, forcing the Russian pair to share first place. There has also been criticism over how the Russia's men's hockey team has been penalized during the competition.