On sporting merit the British basketball team does not deserve its place in the London 2012 Olympic tournament, which it took at Russia's expense, Russia coach David Blatt told RIA Novosti in an interview.
The Israeli coach, who combines his work with Russia with the head coach position at Maccabi Tel Aviv, voiced frustration that in a normal year Russia would have already qualified for the Olympics, having placed third at the European championships in September.
"Only because the Olympics are in London this year, the British team received a free pass, and that was at our expense, basically," Blatt said. Asked whether he felt the British deserved the berth as Olympic host, he replied: "Sports-wise, no."
"That’s the politics of the situation, and that’s what it is. It’s part of the picture, not a whole lot that I can do about it.”
To make sure of a berth in London, Russia has to place in the top three at the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Caracas, Venezuela, in July, a month before the Games begin.
That tight timeframe raises concerns about jet lag, with point guard Alexey Schved complaining to RIA Novosti earlier this month that the long-haul flights threaten the team's Olympic dream.
“We’re going to do what we have to do in order to minimize that problem," Blatt said. "This is the world we live in and the tournament is going to be played in an atypical climate for the Russian team and in an atypical time zone, but we will travel to the United States early, get acclimatized to the weather as well as to the time zone. We’ll be fine.”
He refused to give further details on the pre-tournament plans.
Russia lost to France 79-71 in the Eurobasket semifinals, meaning it missed out on the two automatic Olympic qualification places given to the tournament's finalists. The winner was Spain.
The other teams competing in Venezuela are the hosts, Macedonia, Lithuania, Greece, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Angola, Nigeria, Jordan and Korea.