Is the Irina Viner case a planned conspiracy against the Russian sports scene?
Viner, the best-known rhythmic gymnastics coach and icon in Russian sports, was recently banned for two years by the GEF (Gymnastics Ethics Foundation) for her misconduct at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics.
The punishment only begins when Russia is no longer banned from international sports competitions.
Ashram gold at the Olympics sparks debate
But what is Viner banned for?
The Israeli Lincy Ashram had created a fairytale success story in Tokyo. In the individual rhythmic gymnastics competition, she won Israel’s first ever gold medal, beating the favored Russian Dina Averina.
The sensational victory had been the subject of controversy in the sports community. The Israelis had dropped their band to the beat of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” in their last performance. However, the headmistress chose Ashram as the winner. Several countries then protested.
Viner criticized in the TV broadcast of RT channel the jury’s decision: “Dina didn’t lose, she won. But unfortunately, the verdict was tremendously unfair. It was just a shameful judgment for rhythmic gymnastics.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakhavora issued a public statement in support of the iconic coach, urging the referees to be aware of their responsibilities: “A betrayal in front of the whole world. Those who started the war against the Russian sports scene cannot allow this victory.” (NEWS: Olympic tickets in Paris far too expensive?)
Viner: “Russian domination had to be stopped”
The statements of the Russian coach started a hunt for the Olympic champion Ashram on social media, so that even her opponent Averina asked people to leave her alone.
The day after, Russia lost the team competition to underdogs Bulgaria. Viner outlined what happened in the Russian state media: “Everyone understood perfectly that this had to happen. Russian dominance had to be stopped.”
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), led by Natalia Kuzmina, found no evidence of bias or violations by judges at the 2021 Olympics.
Inconsistencies in FIG personnel
The causes realizations in Russia for excitement. In September 2021, Viner acknowledged that the Russian FA would not nominate Kuzmina for FIG Technical Director elections.
The following month it was announced that the FIG would include Kuzmina in the list of candidates. This nomination was publicly criticized.
Then in November 2021 the next excitement. An independent Ethics Committee removed the controversial figure as a candidate for election to chair the FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics Technical Committee.
The proceedings initiated by the GEF against Viner are believed to be related to the withdrawal of Kuzmina’s candidacy.
Russia feels treated unfairly
The decisive factor in the ban was that it was her second offence. In 2008, she was cautioned for making public statements that were understood to violate ethics rules.
The Russian Gymnastics Federation and the Uzbekistan-born Russian refused to cooperate with the investigation.
The investigations were spearheaded by the GEF. Official Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Chernyshenko spoke on the state news channel TASS of a conspiracy against Russia: “The FIG’s decision to remove Irina Viner is further evidence of interference with the sport’s independence from political officials.”
Viner known as Putin’s girlfriend
Opinions differ on Viner. Her supporter calls her the most influential figure in rhythmic gymnastics. Under her, the eventual Olympic champions Yulia Barzukowa and Evgeniya Kanaeva flourished. Her critics portray her as a cool perfectionist who would sacrifice her athletes for success.
Her controversial approach to training was portrayed in the 2017 documentary Over The Limit. Her verbal abuse of her protégés stood out in the long term.
Their public image is also shaped by their relationships. Viner was married to Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov for 30 years. She is also a close friend of Vladimir Putin.