10:43 GMT26 November 2020
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    An online campaign under the hashtag #NoRussiaNoGames has gone viral, with users looking for ways to defend Russian athletes who were stripped of their medals for their performance at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games over doping allegations.

    The campaign, launched earlier this month by St. Petersburg student Roma Starkov on the Russian social media service VKontakte, has gone viral, spreading to other social media and across the internet.

    In the post accompanying the hashtag, the boy, an aspiring skier who one day hopes to go pro, said he was "sincerely worried" about the fate of Russian athletes Maxim Vylegzhanin, Alexei Petukhov, Evgenia Shapovalova, Yulia Ivanova, Evgeni Belov, and Alexander Legkov. The latter received lifetime bans from Olympic cross-country skiing from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) earlier this month over claims that they had used performance-enhancing drugs.

    "I don't understand why Norwegian skier Martin Sundby was only disqualified for two months over a proven case of doping, while our athletes are being forced to leave the sport for good, without any evidence," Starkov wrote. "Does anyone think about what these athletes…might feel? Does anyone think about the parents of these athletes?" the boy asked.

    "I have always dreamed of becoming an Olympic champion. I believed in the Olympic movement! But how can I be sure of my future if the IOC, which is supposed to protect athletes' interests and treat everyone equally, makes such cruel decisions based only on someone's words?!" he added, referring to  claims against the Russian Olympic team made by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren, which the IOC has cited in its own investigation.

    According to Starkov, if the IOC does not want to protect Russian athletes, Russians must do so themselves. The boy stressed that politics must be left out of sport, and that having baselessly removed one athlete today, the IOC could remove the whole Russian team the next day, and another country altogether the day after that.

    Accompanying the post is an appeal by Maxim Vylegzhanin's mother, where she defends her son against the doping claims. Vylegzhanin himself has also denied the allegations. "I am not ashamed to look into my opponents' eyes when I am at the start line. I never violated the rules and my conscience is clear," he said.

    Starkov's appeal has gone viral, and been picked up by internet users. Vylegzhanin's video appeal has already garnered nearly 700,000 views, and the hashtag has spread to Facebook and Twitter.

    Udmurtia Republic governor Alexander Brechalov showed support for the campaign, rejecting the IOC's biased decision.

    "Personally for me, the gold, silver and bronze for the 50 km cross country skiing event belong to: Alexander Legkov, Maxim Vylegzhanin and Ilya Chernousov. The IOC's decision shows their dependence on politics, which is contradictory to the principles of the Olympics!"

    Other users chimed in with similar thoughts, urging their country's athletes to hold strong against the claims.

    "Let's support our athletes!"

    "I am ashamed for the athletes of the world. They have so submissively accepted our athletes' removal from the Olympics. How wretchedly they should feel when they get their medals in the absence of the strongest opponents. It's like an 11th grader beating first graders. What a disgrace!"

    The Russian national team was stripped of its first place finish at the Sochi Olympic Games over the weekend after the IOC deprived it of another two medals. The IOC commissions to recheck samples of athletes who took part in the Sochi games were created after McLaren and the World Anti-Doping Agency charged Russian athletes with the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Russian experts say that McLaren's claims have no basis in reality, and amount to a politically biased crusade.

    The IOC's Executive Committee will decide on whether the Russian team will be allowed to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea on December 5.

    viral, Olympic games, support, campaign, WADA, International Olympic Committee (IOC), Russia
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